The left-handed battle with technology

When the iPhone 4 hit shops in 2010, some customers could not use the new Apple device to either call or surf the internet. The reason was that holding the device in the left hand could in some cases cover the phone’s antennae, thereby cutting off reception.

Apparently, the designers, technicians and testers at Apple did not think about the needs of left-handers or just ignored them. And that is nothing new, according to Agnes Maria Forsthofer, a member of an association for left-handed people in Germany. “There are essentially no devices fitted for left-handers.”

Even standard devices like a mouse or keyboard have some pitfalls for left-handed users. The number pad for example is difficult to use with your left hand. “There are only a few keyboards where the number pad is on the left side,” said Barbara Sattler, who heads an information centre for left-handers in Germany.

But such solutions are only practical in places where the left-hander works alone. Sharing a computer that has such special devices with right-handers is difficult. Sattler suggests left-handers should rather get a separate number pad with a USB connection, like those available for laptops.

The mouse can cause issues for left-handers. Most of the time they are located on the right side of the keyboard. A wireless mouse solves most of the problems and the system settings in Windows allows for the keys to be changed.

There is no standard for the extreme left-hander, said Stefan Gutwinski, neuroscientist of the university psychiatric ward of the Charite at St. Hedwig Hospital in Berlin.

“Extreme handedness is rather seldom – right-handers do some things with their left hand and left-handers do some things with their right hand,” he said. And they differ from case to case. Some, for example, have no problem typing a text message on their phone with their right hand -others absolutely need their left hand.

But there are some devices with which nearly every left-hander has problems, including for example an ergonomic mouse. Their asymmetric shape supposedly gives them a better fit in the user’s hand – but only in the right hand. “But the symmetric shape has prevailed,” said Sattler.

There are other examples of the technology world being unfriendly to left-handers, for example in the case of camcorders. “They are completely equipped to be controlled with the right hand,” said Sattler. Even photography cameras often have the controls on the right side.

Sattler said there are no real solutions in such cases. “The demand for special left-handed products is not high enough,” she said. Separate production for left-handers is not profitable for manufacturers. The only choice often for lefties is to get used to it.

Neuroscientist Gutwinski said it’s often not that difficult. “Left-handers often have a pronounced tendency for ambidexterity because they are already used to doing things with their right hands from childhood.”

Nevertheless, it has been shown that the older the user, the more difficulty left-handers have in getting accustomed to new devices which have to be operated with the right hand.

In the case of smartphones it would seem initially that it doesn’t matter which hand is used on a touchscreen. But since many devices have the on-off or volume buttons on the right side, operating the device with just your left hand is not easy. Sattler urges left-handers to take the device in their hand before buying it and really give it a good test.

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The left-handed battle with technology