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A Comprehensive List of Alternat ...

Posted Dec 13 2008 11:36pm

A Comprehensive List of Alternative Ergonomic Keyboards

Thursday, October 18, 2007 4:17

Most people who talk about getting an ergonomic keyboard are thinking specifically of a split or natural keyboard, like this or this. If your main problem is that you are typing with your wrists at an awkward angle, these kinds of keyboards may help — but they can also cause other problems.According to physical therapists, typing on these keyboards can cause you to twist your elbows out and your shoulders slightly forward, which can cause more problems and pain. These models also have a wide footprint, meaning you still have to reach far to the right side of the keyboard to use the mouse.But don’t despair quite yet. There are many other alternatives on the market. Some of them look like normal keyboards, while others look more like space ship controls from a sci-fi movie. You won’t find them all at Fry’s or another computer retailer, but plenty of online retailers offer good images and can help you evaluate the right product and make a purchase.Here’s a fairly comprehensive list, but if I’ve missed any, please let me know! Small-imprint or Mini Keyboards These are simply smaller versions of standard keyboards, which get rid of extra navigation keys such as page up/down and the number pad on the ride side of the keyboard. If you’re just reaching too far with your mouse hand, these may solve your problem. Many are relatively cheap and can often be found at common retailers like Fry’s.There are also a variety of small imprint keyboards. Some move the number pad to the left side; others add an extra shift key to let you access a number pad embedded in the letter keys; some have mouse pads; some are wireless.

Tactile Keyboards Some preliminary research from Lawrence Berkeley Labs suggests that typing on springier keys reduce the risk of injury or pain. These keyboards look like standard keyboards but are softer to the touch, so may help reduce RSI symptoms.

Adjustable Keyboards These allow you to adjust the different parts of your keyboard to accommodate the most comfortable position for your hands. They are good if your main problem is reaching to the middle of the keyboard. Some also slant, to help solve the problem of twisting your arms horizontally to reach the keys.

  • Kinesis Freestyle — Flat mini keyboard with a break in the middle
  • Ergo Flex (flat) and Ergo Magic (slight vertical tilt) - Separable sections attached by a cord
  • Goldtouch — Like the Ergo split, this attaches at the top and slants vertically
  • Kinesis Maxim — Slight vertical tilt or lies flat, mini footprint
  • Safe Type — entirely vertical layout, with a center number pad

Contoured Keyboards Here’s where keyboards start looking strange — but this is my personal favorite. They’re good if you are having significant pain and really need a change, a tool that is designed for the natural distance between your shoulders and the shape of your hands.

  • Mini Review: I’ve used the Kinesis Advantage Pro for two years at the recommendation of an ergonomist. They take a few weeks to get accustomed to, but not as long as you’d think, and they incorporate significant improvements. You don’t have to type at the center of your keyboard tray; the keys are easy to reach and positioned in a way that fits the hand’s natural curve; and some of the keys are changed around to better accommodate your hand’s position. No more reaching for the delete and backspace keys, or for a number pad — all those keys are right under your thumbs, once you’ve learned to use them. You can also customize the layout and change around buttons to make them more usable if you wish on the Advantage model. The Advantage pro also allows you to attach a footswitch for mousing that can be customized.

Specialty Ergonomic Alternative Keyboards

  • The Datahand — for severe sufferers of RSI, this is a revolution of a keyboard. You can attach these pieces to your chair if you like, and it requires minimal finger movement, though it looks like it would take quite a bit of getting used to.  [Please note this keyboard has been DISCONTINUED as the producer has gone out of business.]

Other Alternative Keyboards

  • A Roll-Up Portable Keyboard — flexible, rubber, full size keyboard, if you hate those tiny laptop boards or need something very durable

Please do let me know if I’ve missed anything worth noting. As I find more models I will try to update this list.Also, if you have used any of these, please post your impressions of how easy and comfortable it was for you, and whether it helped relieve your pain.Next up, I’ll post a similar list of alternative mice and pointing devices.

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5 Responses to “A Comprehensive List of Alternative Ergonomic Keyboards”

  1. Don Patterson says:

    October 18th, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Everyone has to start somewhere, but a with no license required to put up a web site and assert expertise, it is tragic to me that the above statement is the most that can be said about the DataHand keyboard 18 years after it was first introduced. First of all, the price information is years out of date. Second, the use of the word “weird” is prejudicial and unsuited to a site tacitly imputed to be objective. Further it shows that the subjects in this category are not taken seriously, and even suggests the possibility that you may be promoting particular biases. Further still, putting the DataHand keyboard in a category with a rubber roll-up product is like setting both aside as if they were freaks of nature. Third, for those starting from scratch, the DataHand keyboard is actually easier to learn than the flat keyboard because the learning process is tactily reinforced. And finally, as a user of the DataHand keyboard for 17 years, I consider all the other options to be a false economy if you were to give them to me for free, and I calculate this both from the point of view of rsi and productivity. I could lease my DataHand keyboard for $10,000 annually (instead of buying it) and still deliver a robust return on the lease cost investment. That is my point of view, and if you had spent 30 minutes reviewing the views of many other users, you would understand the views of many people on its value. (In saying this I am a long-time friend and supporter of the DataHand company, because their product is very valuable to me, but I am not an employee and I am not paid or given anything to state my views. Further, I ask no one to take my word for anything with out checking it out for themselves.) I believe in the importance of DataHand product, and I do not think it takes longer to get used to it than it took you to get accustomed to the Kinesis. In my opinion, you need to have more experience with many products before you would put up a web site. In contrast, I used the DataHand keyboard for almost a decade and spent time with all the alternatives before I was willing to say anything about what I know, and I still would not be arrogant or self-certain enough, as a professional writer, to post a web site, though I do appreciate everyone trying to help address the RSI issue. It is just that some ways of trying to help are worse than others. I suggest that you be very careful to talk about what you know and that you not say anything about what you do not know and have not experienced. Otherwise, you are subject to being considered a propagandist even when you trying to be helpful.

  2. Amy says:

    October 18th, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Hi Don, Thank you for your input and strong recommendations of the Datahand keyboard. Since I have not had the opportunity to review the product, I appreciate input from a long-time user. It looks that for many people it could be a viable and excellent option, especially when faced with the costs of long term pain and associated health care. I didn’t intend to denigrate it in any way; to me “weird” just means different than the standard, but I’ll take another look at the language.

    Still, I don’t think you can reasonably argue that it’s the right solution for everyone. No one is going to sit down and learn to use it as a first keyboard, when they are presented with standard keyboards at school, and at home in almost all cases. I also don’t think it would be appropriate for childrens’ smaller hands; there are small keyboards available for that, which perhaps I should also include in this list.

    Medical experts don’t have a one size fits all solution for RSI problems. Most have no first hand experience, and no experience at all with alternative keyboards. The people I know suffering have widely diverse injuries ranging from cysts in the wrist, CTS, epicondylitis, to shoulder bursitis, so they all need differing treatment strategies and different devices.

    The “right” solution is the most cost effective that can solve the problem, which is going to be different for everyone. For me, that’s the Kinesis contoured keyboard– it’s different enough to solve my RSI problems, yet standard enough so that my colleagues and visitors can type, if they need to use my computer for whatever reason. If I were still having problems I would consider the Datahand as a possible alternative.

    This list is meant to be a list only, a reference and starting point for further research, and not a review or endorsement of any products. I encourage readers to do their own research and to share their opinions of products or information on this site, so that it can be as full bodied a resource as possible.

    As for my expertise, I have consulted with several professional ergonomists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and A.R.T. practitioners, and have training in massage and acupressure myself, as well as ergonomic workstation setup and other related issues. I have helped my friends and colleagues, and so I believe that I can be of service to the web community as well.

  3. Peter Seebach says:

    March 7th, 2008 at 9:27 am

    I’m actually a big fan of the DataHand (typing on one right now). Sadly, as of this writing, they aren’t selling them anymore. I actually found this blog while searching around for alternatives that I can use when this keyboard does finally die.

    I really hope something happens to bring it back, because it is an excellent keyboard. I will say that I agree that it’s “weird”, but being able to type all day every day without injury is worth a bit of weird to me.

  4. Amy says:

    March 7th, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Peter, thanks for the tip that the DataHand has been discontinued.

    When the normal options cause people pain, then “weird” can be a great improvement! I hope you find another great alternative, and if you do, post another comment and let us know.

  5. computer ergonomics says:

    March 25th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    These are fabulous tips in the ergonomic world. Very detailed list of ergonomic keyboard alternatives. I have been looking around at different options because I’m already getting wrist pains and I’m only 23. I am on the computer minimum 8 hours everyday so I figured I need to invest in some ergonomic research.
    Enjoy your week!

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