A left-handed software user's plea

Can open source developers open up new opportunities for the left-handed population?
462 readers like this
462 readers like this
Bubble hands

Opensource.com

Left-handed people face many challenges in a right-hand dominated world. For the 10% of us who live under their oppression, it can be maddening. In the early 20th century, my left-handed grandfather was forced to write with his right hand in school, making his handwriting completely illegible. What would great lefties like George H.W. Bush, Bart Simpson, Lt. Cmdr. Data, Barack Obama, or Bill Gates think?

At least we have advanced a little... but not enough!

Every time we work with computers, we suffer under the tyranny of the dexter authorities. We sinisters are subjected to awkward mice, right-sided number pads on keyboards, left-sided USB ports (right where we put our awkward mice), power buttons on the wrong side of the computer, and common keys—such as "delete" and "return"—way across the keyboard. I'm dealing with these hardships as I type this article on my MacBook Pro, and all the ports on my desktop iMac are (in)conveniently located behind the monitor, and yes, on the wrong side.

Left-handed mice are common (although you never hear about "right-handed" mice). I use my mouse on the left side and was surprised to learn that most lefties put the mouse on the right side. I would not even entertain such a sacrilegious notion! Even my browser's cursor taunts me. Its pointy finger accomplice always sticks out its right index finger, mocking me at every hyperlink.

Left right out

Righties even control the robot world. Consider that the Terminator and Robby the Robot shoot with their right hands; Ex Machina's Ava, Bicentennial Man, and the Borg Queen are righties; even the Daleks all seem to be righties. We only have Star Trek's left-handed android, Data, on our side.

I struggle every day with a right-handed can opener, and my cat laughs at me every time I open a can of beans. Scooping ice cream is a waste of time because the activator is on the wrong side. Even shopping at Walmart is terrifying. After rapidly aging in the lengthy checkout line, I approach the payment card portal, only to face a swipe on the wrong side.

Going to the bank is no picnic either. As I stand at the teller window, ready to fill out my deposit slip, I find the pen chained to the right side. Going to the ATM offers no solace. All the keypads and money dispensers are on the wrong side.

My own house poses untold dangers. When I start my lawnmower, I have to pull the cord from the right side. My circular saw cuts only on the right side. My barn door opens to the right, as does my mailbox. The microwave and toaster are all operated from the right side, but, oddly enough, the vacuum cleaner is left-footed. My refrigerator impedes progress to my refreshments by placing the door on the right side, and even the lid on the coffee pot opens to the wrong side. I won't even get into the scissor situation.

Three-ring binders are a three-ring circus for my people. At work, I used to endure a job-tracking system housed in a big, red, three-ring binder. I couldn't write in it. The only way I could use it was to open the rings—releasing 20 years of papers onto the floor—to record my entry. Faced with that daunting challenge, I developed an online job-tracking system using Google Sheets, Google Calendar, and Basecamp3. Equally oppressive to both sinisters and dexters.

Product designers and user experience engineers should consider the left-handed population in their designs and make their products usable for the oppressed masses. User diagrams and instructions should consider that lefties will also use their products.

Can open source rescue us from right-hand domination?

I started searching for left-handed open source gadgets and software, and I came up... empty-handed. I happened upon the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, which, at first glance, appears to solve some of the hardships we face. Alas, even though its maker says it's "a fully programmable, impeccably built, open source, split mechanical keyboard designed for extreme productivity and ergonomics," all the website's visuals are righty-centric, and three of its four add-on modules are "designed for the right side of the keyboard." Sorry, not ergonomic for my people.

I still believe the open source community can address these problems and bring equality to the people. We need a left-centric user interface in every piece of software and hardware. The time has come to rise up and demand equality, to walk hand-in-hand with our dexter overlords, and to never again suffer the indignities of writing at a right-handed desk or losing an arm-wrestling match against Robby the Robot.

August 13 is International Left Handers Day. Mark your calendar, for that is the day we will raise our left hands and declare: "We have been right all along!"

Jeff Macharyas is the Director of Marketing at Corning Community College in New York. He is a writer, graphic designer and communications director who has worked in publishing, higher education and project management for many years.

25 Comments

As a southpaw myself, I am totally on board with this revolution.

There is some truth here, yet overblown, I think. ATMs are not arranged any less confusing for right handers -- generally there is a vertical confusion. Where I buy gas, it seems the keypads are on the left. Sometimes design consistency could be helpful. I wish that all cars had the gas tank access on the same side, and I don't care if it would be right or left.

I really enjoyed this one! I remember struggling with a lot of the same things as a youngster. I think notebooks and scissors gave me the most trouble. I didn't like writing on the chalkboard either. I have adapted (gasp!) over the years, however. I rather enjoy mousing with the right hand and writing with the left. Right-handed folks can do no such thing!!

Luckily I and my twin daughters are southpaws, my wife is ironically the ONLY right hander in the house. At work today I was joined by another lefty and a "dexter" to disassemble a create, the other lefty stripped the screws and I devilishly went off on the right handed guy for letting him ( the kid had no Idea) lol

Thanks, Michelle. I've tried mousing right-handed but just can't do it. I have taught myself to shoot pool and rifles right-handed but that's about as far as I've gotten. I've also fenced right-handed and was surprised at how well I did. I even won! But, today I was looking to buy a circular saw and I knew it would not end well. Oh! How we suffer! Is this considered a "pre-existing condition"?

At least the QWERTY keyboard seems easier for lefties since they get to click more keys on the left side (I think it was meant to make typing harder for "normal" people so they don't jam the mechanical typewriters). I also use my mouse on the left side, and it is actually suggested also for right-handed people to use it on the left for ergonomic reasons. Any item that is symmetrical is ok with me, and computer peripherals can be easily re-programmed from software. The worst were pairs of scissors or anything resembling shears, sports equipments that are right-handed (golf clubs, baseball gloves, hockey sticks, bowling balls, yes, they use different-sized finger holes so you can't just pick one that fits your left thumb since it will be much heavier, etc.), musical instruments (I gave up string instruments early on), etc.

I think public items should be ambidextrous, and there should be right/left/ambi selections for personal items. I know there's more efficient layouts, the only one I know of off the top of my head is dvorak:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvorak_Simplified_Keyboard

TL;DR Researchers researched how to make a better keyboard layout, and ended up balancing it for more of a back and forth between the hands typing by putting the consonants on the right and the vowels on the left in a formation designed to reduce awkward keystrokes, and therefore, potential errors. Most of the typing is done on the home row, very little on the bottom row, which is the hardest to reach.

Still designed to have more of the right hand do the typing bc "most ppl r right handed" but I think there's other variations that have the same idea so there might be a lefty friendly version.

I think either way it's probably better than qwerty, which has some weird origins in morse code or something. I think it's available on most operating systems so when I get a computer I'm gonna try it.

Most computer mouses have a way to switch the buttons for left handed use. Which I found difficult at first. To me, playing games on a touchscreen is difficult because my hand covers most of the things I need to see! And search and find pictures with list of objects..I start on the end of the list and work backwards. Wearing a watch on my right arm, as most of us are told to do, makes for a loud click, clank every time I put pen to paper. Luckily, I figured that out very quickly and switched it to my right hand, but I still see so many lefties wearing a watch on the left wrist.

I'm also a lefty, and there are a lot of little annoyances like this. Here's a tip, though: When you buy a fridge, you can specify which way the door will hang. Has to be that way not so much for our benefit as because some fridges are going to be placed in positions where opening from one side is preferred or even necessary.

My fridge is a side-by-side, so the freezer opens to the left, but all the good stuff is on the right. I also have one of those gigantic Aga stoves and all the iron doors open to the right as well.

In reply to by Purple Library Guy (not verified)

I am considered a left-handed person by many because I write with my left hand. However, I tend to do large motor skills right-handed (I throw right-handed, for example). There are quite a number of things I might do with either hand. I guess this makes it easier for me to adjust.

I have a mouse on the right side of my keyboard (it's sharing a computer with others that makes this something you tend to get used to). To be honest, I never felt awkward using a mouse right-handed. However, I also have a touchpad, which I use a lot (generally more than the mouse to avoid repetitive stress injury) on the left side of my keyboard. I would consider it amusing to watch a right-handed person try to use my touchpad.

Most household items that are made to be used right-handed, I just use right-handed. However, I sympathize about the three ring binders and the pens chained to the right side of the desk. I even sympathize to an extent about the ice cream scoop, but I don't really have any trouble using it right handed. I tend to dish food with my right hand and eat it with my left. That way I don't have to switch hands.

One thing I find amusing is when I see right-handed people cutting their meat using the fork in their left hand and the knife in their right, then laying down the knife, switching the fork to their right hand, and taking a bite. Do they have to be so right-handed? They can't use either the knife or the fork in their left hand? It took me a while to notice that other people did this because I have always just used the knife in my right hand without ever switching. I don't think I would have too much trouble adjusting to doing it the opposite way. I may have even done that when I couldn't bend my left arm enough far enough to eat with it for a while once (I just used my right hand, of course--a minor annoyance).

I'm the exact same way! The look of confusion people give me when I use the "wrong" hand is great.

Though, there's the issue of sports like Tennis where I'm equally good (or perhaps bad) with both hands so I have a habit of flicking between whichever hand seems more convenient.

In reply to by CFWhitman

Most of these are, of course, minor annoyances. But, ever since I wrote this and started reading the replies I've noticed more and more "evidence" of right-domination. Just today, I was closing the hatch on my RAV4 and the pull-down handle (just one) was on the right side. I didn't realize it until I found an image online, that when I ran a printing press (AB Dick 360), it was set-up for right-handed users! I have tried to use the mouse with my right hand, but I just can't do it. I guess I'm in the minority of my minority on that. As for cutting meat, I cut with left and shovel with right.

I myself am left-handed, however I personally prefer my tools to be neutral, rather than geared towards left- or right-handed people.
That way it is a lot more comfortable for me (and yes, I have tried ergonomic tools for lefties).

I agree, the right man has held me down all my life. And to him I say down with righty!

My left-handed mouse (A razer Naga) is on the left, my joystick is lefthanded, and while you're at it; check out the beautiful comix and Crystal mouse cursors for X11, they come in lefthanded form.. My screen cursors are all left handed too!

I'm pretty militantly left handed, but really all it affords me is some righteous indignation.. which is fun when somebody tries to use any of my machines and i have to explain after their exasperation that, yes, the mouse buttons are mapped backwards than what they're used to.. pathetic.. the right man has such a hard time adapting!

I don't expect equality, though. that's ridiculous. It's more fun to lord it over the right folks, and enjoy their obliviousness to so many things i've been forced to notice. I don't always expect accommodation, and I enjoy making a big deal out of the hassle sometimes.. whatever.. screw righty,

I'm just that much closer to my people when we get together like this.. and lord knows there's an overabundance of us in IT!

spoiler alert: it's because we're generally smarter.. ;)

Right on, brother! Do you have a link to your beautiful comix and Crystal mouse cursors for X11??

In reply to by Victor Tramp (not verified)

I'm right handed but I use my mouse (more accurately track ball) with my left hand, but I have it set to right handed buttons. I was suffering mild RSI in the right wrist before I switched about 15 years ago. If I use somebody elses computer, I move the mouse to the left, and if they are lucky I might remember to move it back! Giving my left hand something to do has helped in other areas of daily life too.

I don't understand about right handed can openers - must be a 'Murican thing. I can't remember the last time that I used a tin opener. Here in Blighty, most tins are ring pull.

I'm left handed but don't care in the slightest about any of this stuff. But then I'm no snowflake. I use the mouse left handed at work and right hand at home - it helps prevent RSI.

I always write left-handed, but use a mouse right-handed. I find this a boon, because I can mouse and write at the same time! No need to keep letting go of the mouse to pick up a pen and vice versa.

Now, you try finding a left-handed piano!

No thanks. I played the flute when I was very young and was terrible at it. Once I found fencing, I found the perfect activity for lefties. I would recommend that you put down the piano and pick up a sabre.

In reply to by Tony Mountifield (not verified)

I too am left handed, but can happily do many things with either hand.
(Writing being the one exception. It's either poorly with the left hand, or atrociously and very slowly with the right.)

My mouse buttons are in the standard right handed configuration regardless of which hand I use, and it's never caused me any difficulty.

I do however hate the fact that mouse designers create all sorts of right-handed ergonomic designs, but left handed designs are exceedingly rare.
Even so-called "Ambidextrous" mice often have side buttons on the left hand side only, where they fall under a right-hand thumb, but are all too annoying when moving the mouse left handed.

I did however manage to convert most of the staff at an accounting firm I deal with to left handed mousing (the staff there being predominantly right-handed). The reason is simple. An accountant spends a lot of time on the numeric keypad, so mousing with the left hand leaves their right hand free to use the keypad. They very quickly noticed the improvement in throughput.

You have to take these little victories when they come your way.

I am a right handed computer professional.

I know, more than many, that most keyboards are made badly and have the number pad on the wrong side.

Logitech won't listen.

Microsoft won't listen.

Left handed keyboards are better for righties too but horridly made and far too few.

I was a lefty until I went to school. They forced me to use my right and now I'm ambidextrous. I realise it's not that easy for most, it took years for me and now my right hand is more dominant and more precise.

I mostly wanted to ask, what issues the number pad being on the right has? and if you've attempted mapping buttons and keys in XOrg/XFree to overcome complexities, or if it's just that the devices don't fit on the wrong hand like scissors?

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