By Paula Offutt
I recently began researching keyboard
alternatives. I don't have carpal tunnel or any other RSI. For other
reasons, however, I do need arm support, including for the elbow and
shoulder. I evaluated my situation to determine just what I needed. Where am
I sitting when I do most of my writing? Where are my arms in terms of angle
and support? What position are my wrists in? What are the angles of my neck
I determined that I needed arm support
first. I have an excellent laptop table but it only offers support for my
wrists, not the arms. Since a supine desk (which would take care of the rest
of the body) is out of the budget, I looked into keyboard and arm options.
Some of the arm supports out there are
usable. The Wrist Wizard looks odd but I've heard it works. The Ergo Rest
and the True Arm Support are similar and come with several options such as
mouse support. Another option, without the clamps, is a support such as the
Safe ForeArm, which can be used in a variety of positions and places. The
Ergoport by DataHand is expensive but more contoured. It also works with
non-proprietary keyboards. The problem with contoured arm supports is that
they might not be contoured the way you need, since there are different
kinds of contours.
While surfing around Office Organix, a major
drool site, I came across 'split keyboards,' which are not one continuous
piece. Some are still connected at the top and pivot on a point, such as the
Kinesis Maxim and the Goldtouch. Others are completely separated into two
and even three pieces. This type of keyboard could be positioned to fit
my body and my needs.
I found a variety of split keyboards
available at different sites. The ErgoFlex, the ErgoMagic, and the Comfort
Keyboard were intriguing. The ErgoFlex consists of three interchangeable
pieces. The ErgoMagic is the same, except that each piece has its own stand,
so the pieces can be tilted to different angles. The Comfort Standard has
the three pieces on a single long platform. Each piece can be 'twisted' to
accommodate almost any hand position (such as that required by someone with
a fused elbow).
Kinesis makes a keyboard called the
Evolution, which can be mounted in three ways as well: on certain desk
chairs' arm rests; on a track which looks like a keyboard tray; and on a
desk mount, meaning it lays flat. The pieces can be separated to a distance
of up to 17" apart, and the desk mount has the option of a longer cord
The pieces of the Pace Adjustable are split
but attached to a single long base. Each piece, resting on ball joints,
moves independently of the others on the 21.5" platform.
I also investigated longer keyboards, such
as Kinesis's Contoured, 16.5" long. This keyboard has separated keys on a
place for each hand. Your hand can be placed on any of several impressions,
which place the fingers and wrists in a relaxed, curled position. Maltron
has a similar keyboard that is available for one handed use.
Some alternative keyboards are interestingly
shaped. The SafeType is a good example of this. It is in the shape of a
block 'U' (putting your hands in the 'handshake' position) and includes
mirrors to see the F keys.
The Touchstream is foldable, can be
separated, and has no buttons, just membrane keys. It employs the 'gesture'
input method for its mouse. It also comes in a mini version that is
recommended for one-handed use.
The keyboards discussed so far have a low
learning curve and it normally would not take long to learn how to use them.
However, there are others that are quite different. The BAT keyboard has
only seven keys. Input is done in what they call 'chords'. The BAT was
designed for those with limited movement and for those who can use only one
The DataHand is a bizarre one. Each finger
fits inside 'wells' and the thumb is in a contoured pocket. Each 'well' has
five possibilities: the four compass directions and down. Virtually no hand
movement is required; only the finger tips move. I have heard that once you
learn it, you can easily increase your typing speed. It also has a single
hand version called the DataProof.
The orbiTouch also has no keys. It has two
small mounds that your palms rest on. The direction of each hand determines
the character input. It can even be used with your feet. The company that
produces it claims that average users reach 52% of their previous typing
speeds within five hours of use.
Most of these split and/or alternative
keyboards also employ macros (up to 64), cutting down even further on finger
movement. Several have optional foot switches that are programmable, such as
the ALT and CTRL keys. More are now available with USB connections. Several
of them come with the option of using the Dvorak layout.
The biggest obstacle to these keyboards is
their cost. The DataHand starts at $995 at some sites, while the orbiTouch
is 'just' $695. The Kinesis Evolution ranges from $299 to $699, depending on
mount and mouse location. The Maxim, the split keyboard with the pivot
point, is just $149 (the average cost for the Microsoft Bluetooth wireless
keyboard). The arm supports, ranging in price from $130-$299, were not much
cheaper. The Support for Humans website has a rental option that makes it
possible to try one out first. The rental costs range from $59-$100 and go
toward the cost of the keyboard if you decide to buy it.
As for myself, I will most likely get the
Kinesis Evolution Desk Mount keyboard. It is in QWERTY with only a few
keyboard modifications and the base of each half is wide enough to be its
own support. But because of its cost, I will have to wait a bit longer.
Meanwhile, I dug out my old wheelchair particle board tray and will mount it
to the laptop table. Cost? A few screws and some wood glue.
When I sell my first book or perhaps the
second, I will spend big bucks and get the ErgoQuest 500 ($3695) from
Office Organix or the EasyChair Workstation from MB Enterprises, each with a
The point to this article, in case you
missed it, is that there are alternatives out there to the keyboards you
find at Best Buy or CompUSA. If you consider your writing a career, even a
career possibility, think about keyboard solutions. Yes, they are expensive,
but so is carpal tunnel surgery.
Ergonomic Keyboards and trays:
http://officeorganix.com – mostly
ergonomic furniture and computer gear
– all computer adaptable products
– their keyboard and mice page
– the Ergoport tray
http://kinesis-ergo.com/ - Kinesis
- DataHand website
- Maltron website
Supine desks and information:
http://officeorganix.com/Eropod500.htm – the supine desk of
http://ergoquest.com/ - makers of the
– the Easy Chair Workstation
http://bb.1asphost.com/supine/default.asp – plans for a
homemade supine desk
– an excellent resource site; also has information on how to determine your