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Using Sticky Keys on a Mac

written by: gbastian•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 9/27/2009

Whether you find key combos awkward or nearly impossible, Sticky Keys make the job easier.

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    What are Sticky Keys?

    Most users figure out pretty quickly that using keyboard shortcuts is a great way to minimize the amount of time they spend doing tasks. Unfortunately, sometimes pressing the combination of keys required for a keyboard shortcut can be difficult, requiring the user to press several keys at once. This is especially hard for users that have minimal use of their hands, but can be a challenge for everyone. The good news is the Mac offers an easy solution. It's called Sticky Keys. When the Sticky Keys setting is active, modifier keys you press, such as command or shift, remain active without you holding them down.

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    Turning on Sticky Keys

    Setting up Sticky Keys is fairly simple. Select System Preferences from the Apple menu, and then select universal access preferences, which is located under system preferences. The correct option is highlighted in the first image below. Once you've opened up the Universal Access preferences menu, select the keyboard tab. Here, you will see an option to turn on Sticky Keys. Once you have turned on Sticky Keys, you'll be able to choose some settings to help make using Sticky Keys easier. The second image below shows the recommended optional settings.

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    Setting Sticky Keys options

    Your first option, is to allow using the shift key to control whether Sticky Keys is on our off. In general, I don't recommend using this setting because it can be difficult to remember whether you have Sticky Keys on or off. The second option will let you decide whether or not your Mac makes a series of clicking sounds when a key has been pressed. The third option displays a visual reminder when the key has been pressed. I recommend that you turn one, or preferably both, of these options on. Otherwise, it can be difficult to know when you have set a modifier key with sticky keys or not.

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    Using Sticky Keys

    Once Sticky Keys has been set up, you are all set to begin using them to make your keyboard shortcuts easier. There's just one final thing to keep in mind when using Sticky Keys. Pressing a modifier key once allows that key to remain active until you complete a single keyboard shortcut or key combination. Pressing the same modifier key twice, allows the key to remain active until you press that modifier key again to turn it off. If you have me audible and visual alerts settings turned on as recommended, a darker visual or longer series of clicks will let you know if you've hit the modifier key twice. This is extremely helpful to make sure that you have not left a modifier key on accidentally.

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    What to Look For:

    Finding the Universal Access panelSticky Key Settings