Lefties can feel disadvantaged in the world of computing, but we’ve got some tips and tweaks to help them get ahead
Leo Waldock, Computeractive 12 Apr 2005
There are eight chances in nine that you are right-handed, and if you are, you will probably never have considered the problems faced by the one in nine of computer users who are left-handed.
So imagine that the vast majority of products you use with your computer, from the mouse and keyboard to the software, have been developed with somebody else in mind; a right-handed somebody else.
Take a quick look at the set-up of a typical PC and the problems faced by left-handed users become a little clearer.
The mouse may well be designed to fit comfortably in the palm of the right hand and the integrated number pad on the keyboard will almost certainly be situated on the right-hand side. The backspace and return buttons are also located in a position that will favour a right-handed user.
Most keyboards have the short cuts for Cut (Ctrl+C), Paste (Ctrl+V), Undo (Ctrl+Z) and the like set up for activation with the left hand. This means that the left-hander is likely to have to leave their left hand hovering over the keyboard while using the mouse with their right hand.
This is usually only a minor inconvenience until it’s time for a creative job such as drawing a picture, which will necessitate moving the mouse back to the left hand, particularly if you want to combine mouse navigation with shortcut activation simultaneously.
As for digital cameras, every model is a right-handed design. Suddenly, it becomes clear that the needs of the 11 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men in the UK who are left-handed are not being sufficiently catered for.
The shape of things
While this may seem like just an inconvenience, for left-handed users there are other implications. It is generally accepted that your PC should be set up in the most comfortable configuration possible. The set-up should promote ease of use in order to make your computing experience as pleasant as possible and to avoid putting unnecessary strain on hands and arms when using your computer for prolonged periods of time or performing repetitive movements such as typing.
Feedback from left-handed Computeractive readers highlights mouse usage as a particular problem for left-handers. “As a left-hander, I was disappointed with the mouse I recently bought, which is designed for a right-handed person in terms of its shape and the location of additional buttons on the side,” explains reader Anne Lloyd.
“When I first used this mouse I found it very uncomfortable and I kept pressing the buttons accidentally. As a result, I am an accidental trigger-happy killer of my comrades on Counter Strike 2. I haven’t seen anything that impresses me, as left-handed products are very hard to come by.”
Peripherals manufacturers, such as Logitech, acknowledge that there is a problem. Sylvain Sauvage, Logitech’s usability specialist, agrees that a product such as a mouse should fit with the user rather than the user having to adapt to the mouse.
“It is commonly estimated that around 10 per cent of people are left-handed. However, when it comes to mouse usage, surveys indicate that only two per cent of people use their mouse on the left side of the keyboard. Clearly a large proportion of left-handers are using their mouse as a right hander,” she explains.
This means that the vast majority of left-handed users are struggling to fit with the right-handed computer usage model. As we have discussed, having to use a mouse designed for a right-handed user will throw up a range of problems for the left-hander.
Hand to hand
One solution adopted by manufacturers such as Logitech is to create ambidextrous products that can be used by either a right- or left-handed user. The diNovo Cordless Desktop for Notebooks set from Logitech (£99) not only has an ambidextrous cordless optical mouse allowing the user to have it on either the right or left of the keyboard, but has a separate MediaPad, incorporating a number pad, which can be placed anywhere a user likes around the keyboard.
Microsoft adopts a similar approach to its product development. Mike Haigh, hardware product marketing manager for the Home and Retail Division at Microsoft, tells us: “Currently all our products are ambidextrous with the exception of the Intellimouse Explorer model which is right-handed only.
“Currently we have no left-hand specific products as we prefer most of our mice to be ambidextrous so they can be used by anyone. In our own studies we found that, although a significant proportion of the population is left-handed, a large proportion of these actually use the mouse with their right hand.”
He adds that given that only around a tenth of the potential market for Microsoft’s products is left-handed, the company has no plans to start developing products aimed specifically at the left-handed user.
While ambidextrous mouse designs will certainly alleviate many of the usability problems encountered by left-handed users, some issues still remain. In a basic two-button mouse design, the buttons can usually be remapped for left-handed users so that the left mouse button performs the functions usually performed by the right and vice versa (we’ll come on to how to do this in just a moment).
The optional supplementary buttons located in the sculpted area housing the thumb when you hold a mouse with your right hand are still effectively out of bounds for left-handed users, however.
Learn to adapt
The scope for adapting physical computing equipment such as a mouse may be limited, but the keyboard shortcuts in many popular programs can be changed to better suit the left-handed user. This is possible in Word and PowerPoint, although not in Excel.
To change keyboard shortcuts in Word, for example, select Customize from the Tools menu, choose the Commands tab and then click on the Keyboard button. The Categories box on the left of this dialogue box allows you to browse commands by type and you can select specific commands in the Commands box to the right of this.
To change the Paste (Ctrl+V) shortcut, for example, select Edit in the Categories box, then scroll down to the EditPaste option in the Commands box. The current shortcut will be displayed in the Current Keys box. To change it, click in the Press New Shortcut Key box and perform the shortcut you wish to assign to this function, now click on Assign.
Remapping the index and middle finger buttons of an ambidextrous mouse is pretty straightforward in Windows XP, even though the settings you need to alter are tucked away. Select Windows Control Panel from the Start menu. If Windows is set to Classic View, you’ll need to click on the Switch to Category View option to the left of the Control Panel window.
Now click on Themes and Appearances. Click on the Mouse Pointers option to the left of this window and select the Buttons tab, then check the box labelled Switch primary and secondary buttons. Then click on OK.
For some users, it may be better to dispense with the mouse altogether to perform certain tasks. Chris Boba, associate product manager at Corel UK tells us that Corel has a long-standing relationship with graphics tablet manufacturer Wacom as it feels that the best way to use its graphics packages is with a tablet, rather than a mouse. This is especially true for left-handed users who are struggling to use a mouse designed for a right-handed user.
The latest Wacom Intuos3 tablet (£358) has five buttons on the top left and the top right, and it is possible to remove your most common shortcuts in Painter IX (£296) from the keyboard and map them to the tablet. Chris tells us that it is no coincidence that the nine-fingered hand on the box of Corel Painter IX is a left hand.
The combined price of Corel’s Painter IX and Wacom’s graphics tablet represents a very expensive investment, though, and there are more affordable options that left-handed users can explore to make computing a more comfortable experience.
If you have the necessary £99 for a new Logitech diNovo desktop set, you’ll find the answers to some of your problems. The diNovo has a separate number pad which doubles up as a remote control for music playback, so the keyboard is a little more left-hand friendly than other designs and the mouse is an ambidextrous design which will better suit left-handers.
Other ambidextrous mice include Microsoft’s aesthetically pleasing Starck Optical Mouse (£40), Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse (£40) and Logitech’s Cordless Optical Mouse for Notebook (£30).
It is possible to buy a dedicated mouse developed specifically with left-handed users in mind, although these are admittedly relatively rare. The Anything Left Handed shop in London sells a left-handed keyboard and mouse on its website. These are tucked away in the Miscellaneous section of the site and cost £91 and £79 respectively.
Stay in the game
When it comes to PC games the left-hander will have to choose carefully. Many games use the mouse and keyboard simultaneously and we’ve already established that this presents a number of issues for the left-hander.
Flight simulators often use a joystick but these can also be a nightmare for the left-hander. While the basic joystick and thumb controls won’t be problematic for the left-handed gamer, the thumb button, throttle control and extra buttons are most likely to be placed on the left, exactly where the right-hander wants them but of little use to the left-hander.
A gamepad such as the Logitech Cordless Rumblepad2 (£30) is a better choice for left-handers. Although the eight-way directional control is on the left and the four buttons are on the right, most of the controls are quite symmetrical, and you’ll find that every control can be configured in the game set-up.
It’s no coincidence that the gamepad is used on every serious gaming console and a wireless model from Logitech does away with the annoying control cable.
The third type of gaming controller is the steering wheel, which is used, of course, for driving games. A decent design will be completely symmetrical, although there is likely to be a gear change lever on the right, which messes things up. Ironically, the right-hand-side gear change lever commonly included in gaming steering wheels is usually on the right, which is the wrong side for us Brits, so most games support the use of fingertip controls instead.
Life isn’t easy when you’re a left-handed computer user but by knowing where to buy the correct products and how best to set them up, it’s possible to make the experience of using a computer more efficient and more comfortable.
It would be unfair to say that left-handers are discriminated against by the PC industry today but neither are they given due consideration. Many left-handers have learned to adapt to using right-handed equipment in all walks of life, including the world of IT, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
Remember, we’re talking about a significant part of the population, so perhaps it’s time the manufacturers started marking their products with a left-hand-friendly logo.
Visitado em 17/06/07