Blog Post

Mac 101: Activate the Onscreen Keyboard in OS X

An onscreen keyboard can be a powerful tool for screencasters. This tutorial will show you how to turn on the onscreen keyboard that OS X has built-in.

To turn on the onscreen keyboard:

  1. Go to the System Preferences panel
  2. Select the “International” icon

  3. Go to the “Input Menu” tab
  4. Select the “Keyboard Viewer”

  5. You now should have an American flag in your menu bar. Click on the American flag and select “Show Keyboard Viewer”

  6. You now should have a keyboard on your desktop that displays whatever your press on your keyboard. Quick, easy, free!

* If you click the plus arrow in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard it makes it much larger.

53 Responses to “Mac 101: Activate the Onscreen Keyboard in OS X”

  1. Note to all. The new instructions for Snow Leopard, the only version to have Capitals Lock and Shift keys enabled are:

    1. Go to System Preferences.

    2. Click on Keyboard.

    3. At the bottom check the Show Keyboard & Character Viewer in menu bar unchecked check box.

    4. Now the Keyboard Viewer is in the menubar.


    • Suzanne

      That is great news for folks who have upgraded their hardware.

      Unfortunately, the bug has not been fixed in Leopard which was originally released as OS X 10.5. Our was only upgradable to Leopard, not Snow Leopard.

      This is so disappointing and really colors my view of Apple’s responsiveness to customer needs. The view may be that customers can simply make the leap to upgrade, but again the disabled community has many folks who are on fixed incomes and struggle to even obtain a computer in the first place. Schools are also under budget constraints affecting their ability to make hardware upgrades.

      I feel like a fool. I paid $125 for a software upgrade to get the one feature that does not work and rendered the computer unable to run needed software. I guess the joke is on me. I really don’t think it should be necessary to purchase a new computer to obtain a feature that was supposed to exist in the operating system upgrade. Unfortunately, this experience has given me pause every time I have considered purchasing a new Apple computer.

  2. Kimberly J.

    THANKS A MILLION!! I had downloaded a 30-day trial version of Keystrokes, and while that is a very good program that offers a lot of very useful features, it is not exactly cheap!! The VERY CHEAPEST version that they offer is a program called TouchStrokes, which is US$ 59 / 49!! And that is for their stripped down version!! Their regular full version is a staggering US$ 299 / Euro 249!!

    With the state of the economy at the moment and the fact that I am disabled (which is why I was looking for an on-screen keyboard) I REALLY cannot afford that kind of price for such a simple piece of software.

    I was in the process of searching for a demo download (possibly) of one of their competitor’s products, because after you exceed the 30-day trial, KeyStrokes will only run for 30 minutes @ any one time & there is always ONE KEY that they disable!! Sometimes you can get around that if it is a letter like a V or a Z but if it is either a vowel (A,E,I,O or U) or one of the more common consonants (R,S,T,L or N) then it can really be a pain in the neck!! As if that weren’t enough of an annoyance to get you to pay for & register their software, the program RESETS ALL OF YOUR CONFIGURATIONS & PREFERENCES TO THE DEFAULT SETTINGS EVERY TIME YOU QUIT THE APPLICATION!!



    Kimberly J.

  3. Hi,

    I think that since the On-Screen keyboard is part of the input menu, it is available at Login if you check the box that enables the input menu at login. It is under Accounts, in System Preferences, if you click on Login Options on the left hand side.


  4. Heya!
    I have a Macbook which does not have a numpad – I could do with those keys for an old app I have, which won’t let me reassign the keys. The Keyboard viewer on my Macbook is made to fit it seems, as it doesn’t have a numpad section!
    Is there anywhere in the Keyboard viewer to turn these extra keys/buttons on?

  5. Suzanne

    My son also relies upon an onscreen keyboard due to his physical disabilities. I specifically upgraded to Leopard for the onscreen keyboard that is native to Leopard, only to find out after the upgrade that the shift key does not work. Then to compound my frustration, my son was no longer able to use his math software on the Mac because Leopard does not support classic and the updates for the math software only support up to Mac OS 9. Had I known that the onscreen keyboard did not work properly, I would not have upgraded to Leopard at this time.

    I emailed the accessibility folks at Apple regarding the problem. They acknowledged that Apple was aware of the problem and hoped to have a “fix” in the next release. Unfortunately, the release came out a few days ago and still the problem is not fixed. In addition, the onscreen keyboard does not appear to have most of the commonly used punctuation and symbols (e.g. question mark, “at” symbol, etc.)

    Apple’s solution is to refer disabled users to some onscreen keyboards made for people with disabilities. As I explained to Apple, those keyboards are great, but they are very expensive and people with disabilities are often on very fixed budgets. Further, I explained that being able to use an onscreen keyboard that is native to the operating system has its advantages as sometimes the specialized software keyboards are not compatible with some programs.

    The problem with the onscreen keyboard does not make sense. Apple has an onscreen keyboard with word prediction on its iPhone, but those features are not available to computer users.

    An onscreen keyboard without a functional shift key isn’t really a functional keyboard. The onscreen keyboard will shift if someone physically holds down the shift key on the conventional keyboard, but that should not be necessary and the point is not to have to use a conventional keyboard. Further, I noticed that the number keys do not shift even if I physically hold down the shift key on the conventional keyboard. That means that a person cannot type commonly used symbols and punctuation, such as question marks, the “at” symbol, the dollar sign, the percent sign, etc., using the onscreen keyboard.

    I am extremely disappointed in Apple’s response, or rather its failure to respond to the defects in its onscreen keyboard. It is hard to put out a product that pleases everyone and certainly Macs have many great features. But, Apple seems to be disregarding some of the very basic needs of the disabled population. Windows has a basic onscreen keyboard that has been native to its operating system for several years (at least back to XP). That has been a real “lifesaver” when my son’s purchased onscreen keyboard has not worked for some reason.

    • Hi,

      All with the “Shift” key problem. I am a Visually Impaired Assistive Technology enthusiast. I have had many dealings with Apple Accessibility.

      Their respnses have always been that they will do what they can to fix the issue, but sometimes it takes a while for accessibility problems to be addressed.

      On the whole their accessibility response in enourmous.

      If it isn’t ixed by September, I’ll E-mail them.


    • Hi,

      Snow Leopard has fixed the “Shift” and “CAPS Lock” keys on the onscreen keyboard.

      You can also enable it through Snow Leopards Keyboard pane in System Preferences application.

      Also, Sheep Shaver may run the older OS’s as well, but it is pron to crash and requires some work to get it running. I appologize for that one. Have you concidered using an old tower with Tiger and using “Remote Desktop” for running OS 9.x applications?

      I appologize that I can’t be of more help.


  6. Christine

    I’m not sure about the hover option, but even with sticky keys enabled, the shift and CAPS do not work unless you physically push them with your fingers on the regular keyboard. The folks at Apple told me there is no way around it other than downloading “outside software”. I finally downloaded some software from the internet called Virtual Keyboard, but you’ll have to look up if hover keys will work on it.

    If you can afford it, Keystrokes is the nicest program I’ve found. It comes with word prediction, and increases my son’s typing time tremendously. I’m pretty sure they offer hover keys as well. The only problem is the $350 price tag.

  7. Good day!

    I’m a PC user switching to Mac. Since I’m physically disabled, I use On-Screen Keyboard in PC to type but NOT to view what I’m typing.

    Although I know Mac has On-Screen Keyboard, but I’m not sure whether I can use it the way I do with PC.

    In PC, there’s a typing mode in which I just need to hover the cursor on the key and the letter would be typed. In short, I don’t need to click the key, just put the cursor on it for 0.5 second.

    So is this function available in Mac? If not, then are there any other applications that aid the disabled to type?

    Your prompt response is much appreciated.

    Thank you!

  8. memememe

    Hey everyone!!!
    Just use teamviewer for mac, and log onto your mac thing, and you’ll be able to fully use the keyboard and mouse of any other mac or PC!!!!!!!
    use the keyboard viewer to get to the teamviewer website. ITS FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Christine Barr

    Has anyone figured this out yet? We bought this mac today with the assurances that an on screen keyboard came with it. My son is disabled, and needs the on-screen keyboard to function fully in order to do his schoolwork. It would be difficult without the shift key for capital letters and question marks.

  10. Hey joe, My shift and shortcut keys don’t work either. Actually, they appear to work if no application is running. After I launch an application and enter using the on-screen keyboard, shift and shortcut keys don’t stick.

    Also, my on-screen keyboard does not have the number pad as in the pic above.

    Any help?

  11. rockerbritt

    So i just purchases and imac G3 from the thrift store w/ a mouse but no keyboard. must i have a keyboard to acces the on-screen keyboard? i’ve followed the tips on this page and the on-screen keyboard will not show up under the american flag icon. i’m guessing i need a keyboard soon….

  12. HELP. Shift and Caps Lock dont work with the onscreen keyboard. using the mouse, you should be able to click the caps lock button, and have all buttons remain in caps until you click the CAPS LOCK button again. however, when you hit the caps lock, nothing happens

  13. socorro Martinez

    to whom it may concern
    i use the keyboard viewer, because i am disable. i really enjoyed using the keyboard viewer. but i have a problem. and it is that i can’t use the shift or the cap locks can someone help me. thank you.

    • If you’re still looking:

      by John A. Collins – 1/12/10 8:09 PM In reply to: Another Solution by Colin Pye

      Use Finder to navigate to the folder > System > Library > CoreServices > Menu Extras, and double click on the file ‘’. This will cause an Ink icon to appear on your menu bar. You can use the drop down menu to access Ink Preferences and turn Ink on. Also check the “Show Ink Window” check-box. This is a little window with modifier keys that stick once or lock down by double-clicking. Combine this with the regular onscreen keyboard and you have a mouse-only solution for all your text input needs. Why Apple failed to include sticky keys by default I will never forgive. Please, If anyone knows a good place to post this info where it will be most helpful, let me know or go ahead and do it.
      PS this also works great if you want to use a touchscreen-only setup.”

  14. DeadParrot

    In 10.5 I just make an alias to


    I put this in my local utilities folder, paste a nice icon and I just open the application whenever I need it. I don’t need to fiddle with the International menu.

    Note that this breaks with major releases, since Apple moves things around. So expect a different path in 10.6 or 10.7.