Saturday, August 13, 2016

Seven Days Left: Ergonomic discrimination

This is the sixth of seven items in seven days on left handedness.

Left Handedness and Ergonomic Discrimination

Ergonomic discrimination is invisible and is everywhere.  Amongst human-made things, there is not a single part of daily life that is not designed specifically for right handed people.


  • Pens
Ball point pens are designed to be pulled.  When left handed people use ball point pens, they jam while being pushed.

Many offices and places of business (e.g. banks) place pens only on the right side of the counter, with only enough slack for a right handed person to hold it.  Are they too poor to afford two pens per desk?

In countries with languages written right-to-left (e.g. arabic, hebrew), fountain pens are preferred over ball point pens, though arabic writers usually use bamboo for calligraphy.  I have encouraged several of my left handed students to start writing with fountain pens and they enjoy it.

  • Rulers

Most rulers are numbered left to right, made for right handed people to draw lines and measure.  Left handed people must turn the ruler upside down or measure counting backward, increasing the chance of mistakes.  Right to left rulers are only sold online.
  • Binders

Binders are agony for anyone left handed, especially for children who are forced to write with the holes on the left.  (I wrote "back to front" in my binders after teachers gave up trying.)  Most people take the paper out and write, then put it back in.
  • Spiral ringed notepads

Notepads are different than binders in that they can not be used "back to front" as right handed people would call it.  They are designed so that the "back cover" cannot be turned, only the "front".  Specialized notebooks that open to the right can be purchased online, but at great expense (usually US$5-7 per 60 page book).

  • Scissors
Left handed scissors are usually the most easily found in stores, though generally only children's scissors.

Scissors are designed so you can see what you are cutting - the front blade is underneath, and the back blade is behind.  When I am forced to use right handed scissors, I have to turn the blades toward my right and look down at the back side.  Very awkward.

  • Clipboards
You might be tempted to say, "Where's the problem, just fold the left side behind."  And what if I want to read from papers in the left side?  Your left arm is covering them.  Take the paper out?  Then how do you protect the paper, what's the point of the left side pocket?  What if I don't want the annoyance of the pen holder under my hand?

If I had a dollar for every time someone blindly said, "Sign here" with the clipboard's clip on the left and me holding the pen in my left, I could...well, buy a new mountain bike.  Some of those who do this actually resist or get upset when I move or remove the paper so that I can write.  Why?  Clipboards aren't nailed down, and the paper can be put back.


  • School desks

Most schools, colleges and universities still purchase desks almost solely for right handed people.  If they do purchase left handed desks, it is usually an insufficient number for students' needs.

Tools and Equipment

Hammer and crowbars are likely the only hand-neutral tools.  Almost all industrial machinery is designed exclusively for the right hand.  Some examples:

Even drafting tools and tables, and tape measures are almost entirely right handed.  If left handed people are forced to use equipment designed for the wrong hand, they will inevitably produce lower quality work because they cannot be as precise in their motor skills.

Electronics, Appliances and Devices

All electronics, appliances and devices in everyday life are designed solely for right handed people.  Face any of these, and tell me which of these machines is easier to use with the left hand (hint: none of them).

That's just a partial list, to keep this short.


Good luck finding a knife that can be used left handed without paying through the nose for one online.  The bevel on most blades is like "A" in the picture below.  Cutting straight with the right hand is easy, with the left almost impossible.  "C" is designed to be held with the left, making straight cuts easy.

(When using a knife and fork, I hold the knife in the right hand.  When I cook, my carving, paring or bread knife in is my left.  I can afford to buy specialy knives, many people can't.)

The same goes for spatulas, ladles, can openers (including the P-38 style), and many other commonly used kitchen items.

Here's a funny happenstance: a glass measuring cup.  It was designed so the imperial side will be closest to right handed people, metric on the other side.  (Another sign that Americans don't want to go metric.)  As it turns out, this is perfect.

Do any companies cater to left handed users?

Yes, but these are usually limited to high priced items or where there is a great demand, including some by right handed people.  The three most common left handed products are:
  • Musical instruments
The most readily available left handed instruments are guitars and bass guitars.  Myself, I don't see the point - the able hand should be used for fretting, not strumming (see: Mark Knopfler, Steve Morse, Robert Fripp, Johnny Winter, et al).  There may be other extreme examples, but for the most part, instruments are two handed (most notably, percussion instruments). Interestingly, no one builds violins to be played the opposite way.

That said, most two handed instruments favour one hand.  For example, a piano's treble keys are played by the right hand and are more important, while a saxophone, clarinet or flute depend heavily on the left hand.  Many instruments cannot be converted and are played either strictly right handed (trumpet, trombone, tuba) or left handed (French horn).

  • Sporting goods 
Some sports value and desire left handed players, so left handed equipment is often readily available and affordable.

Baseball is a game of geometry where left handed players are invaluable.  A left at first base faces home plate when catching a ball, and teams wants half their pitchers to be lefties.  The handedness of outfielders doesn't matter, but you will never see a left handed catcher and rarely at second, third or shortshop.

Many right handers intentionally learn to hit left handed because hitting left handed is advantageous.  After swinging the bat, a right hander faces third base.  A left handed hitter faces first base and is six feet closer.  Additionally, lefties hit to right field, away from second, third and home, resulting in fewer outs.  Righties hit to left field where there are more players and more putting players out at second and third is easier.

Hockey values left handed players at all skating positions.  Take left wing for example: a left handed winger can pass to the centre accurately, but a right handed winger has a good shooting angle for scoring goals.  This applies to all five skating positions - teams value talent, handedness is irrelevant.

Coaches often try to prevent left handers from being goaltenders, though that's probably more to do with the availability of equipment rather than ability.  Former NHL left handed goalies include hall of fame players (Grant Fuhr, Tony Esposito) plus many who played a decade or longer and won major NHL and international trophies (Roger Crozier, Tomas Vokoun, Roman Turek, Tom Barrasso, among others).

North American football coaches intentionally try to prevent left handed players from becoming quarterbacks.  And yet amongst NFL quarterbacks, two left handers are in the hall of fame out of less than forty in the NFL's history (~6%).  There are only 32 right handed quarterbacks in the NFL's hall of fame, out of almost 1000 players (~3%)(I no longer watch football at any level because of the off-field violence by its players and other issues like CTE.  It is long past time for the game to be banned.)

Some teams sports do not need specialized equipment.  Basketball has no bias in equipment, but definitely desires players who can use the left or both because of positions and defending.  Many soccer/football players are left or right footed which makes a big difference in passing - watch Japan's #5, Yuto Nagatomo(I'm left handed but right footed.  Go figure.)

In sports where individuals compete one-on-one (e.g. racquet sports, combat sports), left handers have an advtantage because of their rarity.  Right handed opponents rarely face left handed people, while left handers face them all the time.  And the opposite handedness means balls or combat strikes come towards the right hander's attacking side, not their defensive side.
  • Firearms 

Firearms designed or altered for left handed use usually involve ejecting bullet casings to the left side, away from the shooter.  (No, I am not going to provide links for ammosexuals to look at.)

In Conclusion....

Isn't 10% enough of the market for corporations to accomodate people?  Especially when it is much more expensive and less profitable to install or purchase things used by a much smaller percentage of the population (e.g. wheelchair accessible ramps on buildings, sidewalks, buses, and even a playground swing; braille written on objects; floor and sidewalk tiling for the blind)?

No, being left handed is not a disability, nor is there any overt discrimination by manufacturers.  But one can accurately describe this as thoughtlessness, as arrogance and a lack of consideration.  Other examples of such thoughtlessness (and with a larger market, 50% of humans) are car manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry.  The front seats and seat belts of cars are still built for adult males, which makes it difficult for women to drive and puts their safety at risk.  And drugs are tested only on men, leaving women to face unexpected side effects and drug companies falsely claiming their products aren't at fault.

Saturday, part 7: Left Handedness - Who's Who, and What's What

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