Notebook And Ergonomics
All notebooks have a built-in compact keyboard. The pointing device is usually a touch sensitive control pad. Earlier notebooks featured a trackball between the G, H, and B keys. The design of notebooks rests heavily on the concept of mobility and portability; hence, as they are excellent as portable mobile solutions. However, they are not suited for long hours of use, as they are not ergonomically designed. Extended typing on the built-in keyboard is a strain as the keys are very small and too close together. The monitor and the keyboard are joined together; hence, they cannot be placed at different angles, which is a requisite for fast and efficient typing, forcing the user to assume an awkward position while typing. Using the touch pad for extended hours leads to finger strain and needs a lot of time for accurate pointing, thereby slowing down the work process.
Additionally, excepting the thin-and-light variety, most notebooks are heavy to carry around. The American Medical Association (AMA) states that the weight of the objects that need to be carried around along with the body should not be more than 15% of the body weight. The weight of most notebooks is greater than 15% of the body weight, signifying that when you carry a notebook, you are not actually carrying it, but are actually hauling it! This leads to arm, chest, and spinal strain, which may lead to further bodily complications at a later stage. Therefore, to overcome such issues, notebook accessories came into existence. Accessories like a notebook carrying bag is extremely useful to carry the notebook around. External devices like an external keyboard and a mouse can be used to overcome the limitations of the notebook built-in keyboard and touch pad.
Ergonomic keyboards for notebooks
* One-handed keyboard. This is a compact keyboard, which can be used with a single hand. It replicates all the functions of a full-size keyboard. Letters, numbers, commands, and macros are created with key combinations or “chords” and thus the keyboard is called as a “chording” keyboard. This one-handed keyboard is extremely useful for persons with physical and visual impairments.
* Compact keyboard. Similar to the notebook keyboard but separate from it, thus can be placed at any angle for efficient typing.
* Contoured keyboard. This is ergonomically shaped, sloped, and contoured keyboard. It also has a built-in touchpad and a split spacebar.
* Split keyboard. This keyboard can be split into three distinct sections, which can be placed in different angles and in any order as per the convenience of the user.
* Full-size regular keyboard. This is the normal full-size regular keyboard similar to the ones used in desktop computers.
Ergonomic pointing devices for notebooks
* No Hands/Hands Free. A foot-controlled mouse, includes a set of 2 pedals, one pedal controls mouse movements and the other pedal controls clicking.
* Vertical Hand-Positioning Devices. Resembles a joystick but functions as a mouse.
* Graphire Tablet. A tablet mouse that can be used with either a pen stylus or a mouse. The tablet is connected to the computer; the stylus and mouse are cordless. Very useful for graphics.
* Trackballs. Very large trackball requiring less fine motor control.
* External touchpads. Regular notebook touchpad, but since it is external it can be adjusted to any angle as per the user’s choice.
Few ergonomic tips for external devices with notebooks
* The keyboard or the pointing device does not primarily cause the pain in the wrist and the arms. The small repetitive movements of the hands and the fingers essentially cause the pain. Thus try to reduce the movements as far as possible.
* Awkward postures can be avoided by placing the keyboard and the pointing device at the same level to each other, and beside each other.
* The placement of the keyboard and the pointing device should be the height of the elbow. Higher or lower than the elbow height causes pain over extended use.
* For working with long hours, try to use the pointing device, with both the hands alternatively. This will relive both the hands of the pain and stress.
* Sitting straight with the spine straight is the correct posture. Crouching or slumping down while working causes spinal troubles.
* Planting the wrist or the arm on the desktop or the armrest of the armchair, automatically forces the wrist to bend and move the pointing device. The whole arm should be used keeping the wrist straight in line with the arm as far as possible.
* Pointing devices need fine, sustained movements, hence do not put pressure or squeeze. Use it gently without any pressure and when it is not needed, do not keep on holding it.
* If you are using a Wi-Fi enabled Bluetooth mouse, or a regular mouse attached to your notebook via PS/2 or USB port, keep its usage to the minimum, as dragging the mouse requires more force. Use keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys. While clicking, click with minimum force, keeping the wrist straight. Program the mouse to work with single clicks rather than double clicks.
* With big trackballs, you may have to angle your hand up, try to keep your hand at a straight angle.
* Your choice of the pointing device should be based on the size of your hand, work habits, job, sitting style, and other personal bodily factors. Get a feel of the new pointing device at the store, before buying it. If possible, borrow it from someone you know, get a thorough feel of it, and then only go for the purchase. Do not buy pointing devices, because of their attractive aesthetics, like color, contour, flashing lights, etc. A beautiful looking pointing device is useless if it hurts your arm or wrist and gives you carpal tunnel syndrome or other induced repetitive stress injuries.
* You may alternatively use foot pedals instead of a mouse. However, this is also likely to give you sole, ankle, calf, and knee related injuries due to extended use.
Any keyboard or pointing device may be used; however, the aches and pains of constant usage are a fact with every dedicated computer user. A perfect keyboard or a pointing device for a notebook or any other computer is not yet invented.