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Accessories for extended functionality: Keyboards and styluses

This article was originally published in the Ministry of Education's Assistive Technology Newsletter. To sign up to receive this newsletter, please email CAT.Help@education.govt.nz

“The only difference between us and the animals is our ability to accessorize!”

― Robert Harling, author

Over the next few issues, I’m focussing on some of the accessories that can be used with devices and what to consider when selecting the right one for your student. As always, the student’s essential learning needs should be at the heart of the decisions made. This month, we’re looking at the accessories that can improve what your device can do or allow you to do things in different ways.



Like all accessories, there are positives and negatives about their use. By adding an external keyboard to an iPad for example, you can increase the amount of information visible on the screen. Similarly, if a student is trying to improve their handwriting on their device, having a good stylus is essential. Downsides can include that they might need to be charged regularly or have their batteries changed, and they’ll need to be transported and stored somewhere safe when not in use. For laptops, external keyboards can be awkward as they’ll usually mean the laptop has to be further away, but it can also provide an opportunity to raise the screen of a laptop to a more ergonomic position.


Wired keyboards

Pros: Never needs charging, cheap, often have number pad as well as full keyboard. Can provide larger keys than available on a laptop or on-screen keyboard.

Cons: Usually larger than Bluetooth keyboards, wires can get in the way, additional item to store and transport. To use these with an iPad, you must have the necessary dongle to plug it in.


Endeavour USB Wired Keyboard

$10 - $15

Logitech K120 Wired Keyboard

$35 - $45


Microsoft Wired Ergonomic Keyboard

$110 - $130



Wireless keyboards

Pros: No wires to plug in, often have number pad included.

Cons: Will have a wireless receiver dongle to plug into the device which can be small and easily lost. Sometimes larger than Bluetooth keyboards. Usually has batteries that will need to be changed (although these could last several months). To use these with an iPad, you must have the necessary dongle to plug the wireless receiver into.


Endeavour Wireless

Keyboard and Mouse

$30 - $40




Logitech MK315 QUIET

Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

$75 - $95

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Wireless Keyboard & Mouse Combo

$135 - $155

Bluetooth Keyboards

Pros: No wires to plug in, no dongles to lose. Often more compact than full size models and can fit into a carry bag

Cons: Batteries will need to be changed or charged at some point, pairing can sometimes be tricky to set up or drop out


Logitech K380


Microsoft Bluetooth Wireless keyboard


Apple Magic Keyboard



Some questions you can consider when thinking about keyboards include:

  • What learning need will this support?
  • How easy will it be to store and transport?
  • How comfortable are the keys to type on?
  • Does the keyboard have any useful shortcut keys compatible with my device?
  • Does it have the compatible function buttons (e.g. Windows key, Command key, Home key for iPad)?
  • Will we need a laptop riser stand? How will we store and transport that?
  • How long is the battery life? Who will be responsible for checking and charging or replacing them?



A stylus is a useful accessory for a touchscreen device if you’re wanting to do any kind of handwriting or drawing. Some students find that handwriting on their device helps them to improve their legibility because the device can give instant feedback about their accuracy.

There are two main types of stylus: active or passive. Each works in a slightly different way and both have positives and negatives.

Passive Styluses

Also known as a capacitive stylus, you can tap or write directly on a screen with a passive stylus. They usually have wider, bubble-like tips. A passive stylus doesn’t have touch sensitivity or electronic components so there’s no communication between the stylus and the device. A passive/capacitive stylus simply conducts the electrical charge from your finger to the screen just like your finger would, which makes them simple and easy to use. You can use a passive/capacitive stylus on any touchscreen that works with your finger.


Basic Capacitive Stylus

$5 - $20

Targus Smooth Glide

$20 - $30

Adonit Mark Stylus

$20 - $30

Gecko Stylus


Cosmonaut Stylus

$125 - $145

Active Styluses

An active stylus has a tip like a pen and includes internal electronic components. Features can include memory, electronic erasers, and pressure sensitivity that allows lighter or heavier lines depending upon how much pressure you apply. Some allow you to rest your palm on the screen without causing interference (also called “palm rejection”). Active styluses are device specific, so you need to make sure it is compatible with the equipment you want to use it for.


Apple Pencil

$159 / $239

Microsoft Surface Pen

$150 - $160

ZAGG Pro Stylus

$115 - $130

3SIXT Smart Stylus

$95 - $105

Adonit Note Stylus

$95 - $105

Some questions you can ask yourself include:

  • Does it allow my student to complete the tasks they need to?
  • Does it work with the device my student has (or is getting)?
  • How easy will it be to store and transport?
  • How comfortable is it to use?
  • Does it support correct pencil grip? Does it need to?
  • Is it wide enough or too wide for my student’s hand?
  • Does it have batteries? Need charging? Who will make sure it’s ready to use each day?

Final thoughts

Just as with other accessories, make sure you keep the student’s learning needs as the highest priority. How will the keyboard or stylus improve your student’s ability to complete the tasks they need the equipment for? Look for the features that match the learning needs the best and any other benefits are just a nice bonus. Have a look in tech shops to see what keyboard and styluses they offer or have a chat to your local assistive technology coordinator to see what advice they have for you. They might also be able to provide equipment for a trial if you’re not sure whether it’s going to be suitable or not.

Most importantly, if something isn’t working – change it! Assistive technology can only be assistive if it works for the student using it.

If you have any other hints, tips or tricks for supporting students using assistive technologies, please let me know! As always, if you have any suggestions or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology

Using technology to support students with disabilities and special learning needs.