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Understanding Assistive Technologies: What is a Head Mouse System?

Jun 6, 2023

Web accessibility isn’t just for people with vision and hearing disabilities. The goal is to create content that works well for everyone — that includes people with mobility impairments, cognitive differences, and temporary or situational disabilities. 

Ideally, your website should work well for everyone, regardless of the technologies that they use to access the internet. By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you can avoid common accessibility barriers without testing your content with every single type of assistive technology (AT). 

With that said, learning about AT can help you develop an accessible mindset. In this article, we’ll explain the basics of head-controlled mouse systems (also called “head mouse" systems).

How Head Mouse Systems Improve Accessibility

As the name implies, a head mouse converts the head movements of the user into commands that can be processed with specialized software. 

Head mouse systems typically use wireless optical sensors to track the user’s eye movements or facial expressions. The data collected by these sensors is then used by the computer to navigate the cursor in response to the user’s movements. 

For example, a user could move their head up or down to scroll, or smile to trigger a “click.” Some systems have additional features to allow users to ergonomically control menus, launch applications, or handle other complex interactions.

Head mouse systems benefit a wide variety of users, including people with conditions like:

  • Cerebral palsy.
  • Muscular dystrophy.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Stroke.
  • Spinal cord injuries.

Most head mouse systems connect to a user’s computer, smartphone, or tablet via USB. The user attaches a small sensor to their forehead or glasses, and the software uses the device’s webcam to pick up movements. The software works similarly to eye-tracking systems, which are another type of AT used by people with severe mobility limitations.

Like virtually all assistive technologies, head mouse systems have improved significantly over the past decade. Newer systems may not require external sensors, using only (relatively) low-quality images from the user’s webcam to provide precise, ergonomic control of the mouse pointer. 

Related: 3 Tips for Browsing the Web If You Have Difficulty Using a Mouse

Web Accessibility for Head Mouse Systems

While head mouse systems are effective tools, users may have trouble with web interactions that require a high level of precision. For example, if you ask users to drag a tile from one part of the screen to another, head-mouse users may not be able to complete that process. 

Following WCAG’s Level A/AA requirements can help you provide a better experience for these users. Some relevant WCAG success criteria (pass-or-fail statements used to test digital accessibility) include:

It’s important to remember that people with mobility limitations may also have other disabilities. Once again, WCAG is intended for all users — not just people with specific conditions — and following the Level A/AA guidelines can ensure that your content is reasonably accessible for as many people as possible.

Related: Understanding Assistive Technologies: What Are Sip-and-Puff Systems?

Provide a better experience for your users by following WCAG

If you’re new to WCAG, we recommend reading about the four principles of accessibility. Understanding those principles can help you create better content and find remediation tactics that truly improve the user experience. 

For guidance with a specific digital accessibility issue, reach out to our experts. To test your content against WCAG Level A/AA, get started with a free automated analysis. 

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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