Removing the slouches and aches from keyboards

Removing the slouches and aches from keyboards COMPUTER manufacturers are propping up the all-too-familiar "sagging" image of the keyboard operator at last. A new class of designer keyboards now promises deliverance from slouches, painful wrists and embarrassingly fidgety fingers.

The latest in the line is the innovative Maltron keyboard invented by Lilian Malt and Stephen Hobday of UK. The keys for each hand are separated and arranged in a dish around each hand, reducing finger stretching and forearm strain and allowing the wrists to straighten and the shoulders to relax. The new design allows users a relaxed posture, which also helps them avoid the "computer hunch" commonly found among operators.

Keyboard operators tend also to suffer from repetitive strain injuries (RSI), which is now the most frequently reported occupational disease in USA and the subject of expensive lawsuits in the UK. It occurs when a small group of muscles is used to perform rapid and intense movements over a long period. If untreated, RSI can become irreversible and severely debilitating.

In January this year, Apple Computers launched the first alternative keyboard, with a view to enhance the user's, rather than the machine's, efficiency. Essentially, it is a standard keyboard split into two halves, one for each hand. Each half can be rotated to match the angle of the forearm, reducing wrist pain. But unlike the Maltron, its design doesn't do much to help the user avoid a slouch and pain in the forearms.

The keyboard is not the lone offender: The seemingly innocuous-looking device called a mouse, which is used instead of a keyboard to operate some types of computers, can cause as much damage as a keyboard. One already available alternative is the trackball, but though many users say it causes less pain.