Working in the the "assistive technology" field you find yourself on some strange missions. Once, a colleague and I spent an hour searching a used office furniture warehouse, turning every office chair upside down. We were looking, as we explained to the confused staff, for a "left-handed chair."
Yes, they laughed.
But a left-handed chair is a real thing. It is a chair which can be adjusted (height-wise, etc) with the left hand - an important thing when your client is a young man who works in CAD design and has lost all use of his right arm in an accident.
We found the chair, but we needed other things. An appropriately left-handed mouse device. A numeric keypad we could move to the left side of the keyboard, and a keyboard where he could type efficiently with just one hand.
In other case, helping a hotel pool maintainer, also without the use of his right arm, move up to desk clerk, we needed to find a left-hand typing solution. In this case, unlike the one above, this would be a multi-user computer. At busy times up to three or four employees would jump on the same keyboard in quick alternation.
There are lots of reasons to seek keyboard alternatives. First, text entry systems should be chosen for comfort and function, and not left to the crap delivered with most computers. Second, people have unique needs and preferences. Third, my guess is that more people are injured by their keyboards than by any other workplace device: The way the human wrist is forced to bend to type on a flat-straight keyboard buts terrible pressure on certain arteries, causing permanent pain. Fourth, we already know that many of us now type faster on phone keypads than we do on the 'old' keyboards. Finally, not everyone has two working hands.
So when a question about one-handed keyboards recently arrived on a list serve, I watched the options offered with great interest. So what if this question comes to you?
As is often the case, Charlie Danger is a good place to start. He begins with the free re-mapping of your Windows computer keyboard with downloads from Microsoft.
I've had great experiences with the Half Keyboard (or here), a mini-keyboard that merges the left and right halves of the traditional QWERTY board into a 'single half.'
The Half QWERTY (or here), though much more expensive, has the advantage of functioning as a 'regular' keyboard when multiple users are on the same machine. (This proved the perfect solution for a one-handed hotel desk clerk I worked with - there just was not good room for multiple keyboards.)
The Frogpad (or here), which began the conversation, is great for those who can learn it, and who have the necessary multi-finger dexterity.
OATS has a couple of great solutions, the "phone keypad" based Dkey with phone-type predictive spelling, and the gesture driven Qwriting. Both completely free, of course.
Tapir is another free phone keypad based solution.
For a physical version of the phone keypad, the Cre8txt system is a wonderful solution. "[T]his device [claims the website] captures the writing skills that so many young people have developed themselves using their mobile phones. It probably isn't going to surprise you to know that most young people can touch type at phenomenal speeds without even looking at their mobile phone."
And just to suggest - Speech Recognition, either Dragon or within Windows Vista (or simply using Dial2Do) - is always another solution.
The trick is - as always - that we have a flood of choices. Choices we hardly ever see in workplaces and never see when schools begin to teach "keyboarding." Choices which enable rather than disable or frustrate.
The way you "type" simply does not matter. The words, the ideas, the communication - that's what matters. Using two hands, or one, or none.
- Ira Socol
- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
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- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children