Sticky Keys can be very handy
Mac Tip #431, 07 April 2010
It can be a problem sometimes trying to press 2 or more keys at the same time. Sticky Keys is the answer. Here’s how to use them.
Many keyboards have only one Option or Control key — on the left-hand side. Those keys aren’t ‘toggles’, unlike Caps Lock, so you have to keep holding them down while you use their functions.
For example: to use Caps Lock you press it once to toggle it on, and then again to toggle it off. Control (⌃), on the other hand, only works while you hold it down.
That’s fine if you can use both hands while you type, but there are often occasions when that’s not possible. If you break your wrist or sprain your fingers, if you’re holding a cat, or a baby, or a cup of coffee, you may not be able to easily use both hands on the keyboard.
Of course, some people don’t have the use of two hands anyway, and some may have restricted movement in their hands, or may just find it too hard to hold down 2 or 3 keys at the same time.
That’s why Apple have given us Sticky Keys as part of the Universal Access options. Sticky keys holds down modifier keys for you while you type other keys. For example, you could type an ellipsis (…), with
Option Shift (⌥ ⇧), or call up a Dictionary definition with Command Control D (⌘⌃D).
Watch the video
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The Universal Access System Preference Pane
The Universal Access System Preference Pane provides many accessibility options. Sticky Keys is in the
Go to the Apple menu and choose
System Preferences…. Once the
System Preferences… window opens click on the
Universal Access item in the
Universal Access preferences click on the
Keyboard tab. The
Keyboard preferences allow you to modify how the keyboard works.
Turn Sticky Keys on
For help with the keyboard check the
On radio button beside
To be able to turn Sticky keys on and off using only the Keyboard, check the option for
Press the Shift key 5 times to turn Sticky Keys on or off.
As you can see from my screenshot, I also asked for a beep when a modifer key is set and to see a display on screen of keys that have been pressed. In my screenshot you can see that I pressed Command and Shift (⌘⇧) as part of making the screenshot, so they are displayed as a white overlay.
Use Sticky Keys
To type something like an ellipsis you need to hold down Option while you type a semicolon. That’s too far for most people to stretch one hand.
Engage Sticky Keys as explained above. If you have the volume on your Mac turned up you’ll hear a kind of ‘unlocking’ sound.
Then press the Option key once and let go. Sticky Keys keeps it engaged for you, even though you’re no longer pressing it. Now press the semicolon key once and let go. An ellipsis character should be entered in your text document, and the Option key is disengaged.
You were able to type one single character using the Option key, even though you’d taken your finger off the Option key.
You can use this for more than one modifier key too. For example, in many applications you can call up a Dictionary definition by hovering over a word and typing Command Control D (⌘⌃D).
Engage Sticky Keys, select a word, and then press the 3 keys you need in sequence, starting with either Control or Command. If the application supports it, a definition box appears.
Note: after doing this once while writing this Tip I was unable to call up Dictionary definitions afterwards. This could be my Mac, or it could be a bug. I’ve never had problems with Dictionary definitions before, but I don’t routinely use Sticky Keys.
That’s all there is to Sticky Keys. If you have problems typing see if Sticky keys could help make things easier.
Tell us in the Comments at the website if you use Sticky Keys and how well it works for you.