In the ergonomic keyboard market, one handed people are totally ignored, despite the fact that we have an even greater chance of developing RSI. After being diagnosed with numerous cumulative injuries in my good hand, which were most likely exacerbated by having to type on a standard QWERTY keyboard with it, I relied exclusively on Dragon NaturallySpeaking to access my computer. It’s a beautiful program, and I still use it for intense computer sessions be they Web browsing or 20 page papers. However, there are times and places when using your voice is not possible, or certain applications at work are not voice accessible. So what do you do, with every “split” or “natural” keyboard completely useless to you?
If you can, you save up your money until you can buy a Maltron single-handed keyboard — literally the only ergonomic full keyboard in the world for a one handed person. It was designed in 1977 by Stephen Hobday of Great Britain, and its layout was researched and invented by Lillian Malt, an expert on reading patterns. I can best describe it as the two-handed person’s contoured ergonomic keyboard, cut in half. The layout is obviously different from the two-handed Maltron; the frequency of keys for one hand will be different than for two.
The five home keys are Space ATEH on the right hand, from thumb to pinky finger. The home row in full is Space UISATEHN. Compare this with one hand on a QWERTY keyboard: FGHJ. See how far you have to stretch to get the other letters? Not so good. I fell in love with the frequency of use layout rather quickly; it’s even better than right-handed Dvorak. I confess, though — not being a “texter” — using my thumb for U and I took some getting used to, and to avoid stress I sometimes move over and use my index finger instead. If you have a larger hand span, this might not be a problem for you.
But the layout is only half of it; if it were just that, it would be just another Dvorak. The design is the other half. Not only are the keys compacted, but they are arranged in columns around the curved shape — not staggered — and the columns are recessed according to finger length, reducing the stretching required. The keyboard has a very slight slope to it, so you can rest your hand naturally on the keys without having to turn your arm to make your fingers meet them. Best of all, the keys are Cherry MX switches, which are incredibly gentle to type on — you barely have to press the key half way to generate a character. This doesn’t mean the keys are mushy or hypersensitive; you do have to make a purposeful movement, just a very slight one. After pounding on membrane/rubber dome keyboards, it’s seriously like laying your fingers on pillows.
They’ve pretty much thought of everything. Turn off Sticky Keys in your accessibility options; Maltron built it into the keyboard. The right-hand Shift, located in the thumb group, “latches,” releasing after the next key is pressed. The left-hand Shift is in the top right corner of the numeric keypad, and it locks — you have to press it again to deactivate it. I find the left-hand shift useful for selecting text, or typing in caps with punctuation. It is also useful if you use the tab key to navigate links and miss your mark; press left-hand Shift and tab backwards to your heart’s content. The left-hand control and left-hand Alt lock also, which is useful for executing a series of keyboard shortcuts or — a pleasant surprise — entering the codes for special characters. A red button by the function keys puts you in “numbers mode,” which means you can use the letter keys to enter numbers if you wish instead of the numeric keypad or the regular number keys above the letters. (Note: if you use Mouse Keys, you’ll need to deactivate that for it to work.)
In all, I’m thrilled that I found this keyboard, and impressed that Malt and Hobday troubled themselves to research one-handed data entry as well as two-handed, providing a lifesaver in what other companies would consider just a “niche market” and not worth their time or investment. This keyboard has returned a very important aspect of language to me: muscle memory. Sometimes when I think of words, I think of them in the way my fingers move to type them, and that pattern becomes the word. A mnemonic device, I guess. I can “feel” words again, and that’s worth everything.