8.04.2009

Revenge of the StickyKeys

If you're ever present in a computer lab when a student discovers the StickyKey shortcut, you will soon be treated with a chorus of trill tweets - the sound that accompanies StickyKey activation - as the student shares this new trick with his classmates.The students rarely if ever know what that sound actually indicates (they just really like the noise), and will soon be raising their hands to tell you that something is wrong with their computers. Sometimes StickyKeys will be activated without your knowing, e.g. when audio is muted, and your only indication will be a seemingly possessed computer. How will you know? How do you fix it? Here is your guide to StickyKeys, including how to recognize when StickyKeys is the culprit of a computer gone awry and how to disable the StickyKey feature.

What is StickyKeys?


StickyKeys feature lets you press a modifier key, such as Shift, Ctrl, Alt, or the Windows Logo key, and have it remain active until another key is pressed. Pressing a modifier key twice will keep that key activated until two keys are press simultaneously, assuming the lock setting has not been changed...but we don't assume, do we.

What's the point?


StickyKeys is an accessibility feature, allowing enabling multi-key shortcuts or capitalized letters to be typed one key at a time.

What is that noise, a.k.a. what is the StickyKeys shortcut?


When enabled, pressing the shift key five times in a row will enable StickyKeys. The shortcut is accompanied by a very annoying noise...at least it's annoying when 30 middle school students discover it at the same time.

When the shortcut is enacted, a pop-up should appear describing StickyKeys and asking whether the user would like to keep StickyKeys on or not. Seeing as students (and lots of adults, let's be fair) don't actually read pop-ups, but simply hit OK, this leads us to the next part...

How do I know if StickyKeys is enabled?


If normal StickyKey mode is enabled one usually won't notice, except for the beep that accompanies the use of a modifier key; even with StickyKeys enabled, modifier keys can be used as they normally would.

The real problem occurs when a modifier key gets locked, which happens when it is pressed twice in StickyKey mode. If the Shift gets locked, the computer will act as though the caps key is engaged, even when it's not. If the Ctrl or Alt key gets locked, the computer will enact keyboard shortcuts as the user attempts to type - menus will open, windows will close, and one might consider grabbing for the holy water.

Or, as was the case that prompted me to write this post, shortcuts won't work at all. While working in Photoshop, all the keyboard shortcuts suddently ceased to function. Turns out I had StickyKeys enabled and the shift key locked, so any shortcuts with ctrl did not work.

Another indication of StickyKey lock-down is a repeatedly failed workstation login. If StickyKeys is enabled when workstation is logged out of, StickyKeys will remain enabled when the next student tries to log in, making his/her login seemingly defunct.

How do I disable StickyKeys?


Go to Control Panel > Accessibility Options and make sure that "Use StickyKeys" is unchecked. To help prevent StickyKeys from being re-enabled, click the Settings button (under the StickyKeys section) and uncheck both "Use Shortcut" and "Press modifier key twice to lock". For good measure, I've disabled ToggleKeys and FilterKeys too. Ha.

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