The DataHand Basics
DataHand Systems, Inc. is proud to offer an ergonomic computer keyboard which addresses and fixes all of the sources of musculoskeletal stress long associated with work on the
traditional flat keyboard. The DataHand ergonomic keyboard does not just make minor adjustments to the traditional keyboard concept; it pushes back the frontiers of keyboard design
by offering an entirely new keyboard paradigm.
The DataHand ergonomic keyboard offers a total of 132 keys (more than even extended flat keyboards) through the use of five keyswitches clustered around the tips of each of the
fingers. With four modes, shifted by the thumbs, hand movement is no longer required to perform keyboard work. Hand support results in the elimination of the major source of
musculoskeletal stress in hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, backs, and necks.
DataHand keyboard users are no longer forced to conform to an arbitrary, stressful, and contorting keyboard design. As user testimonials make clear, the DataHand keyboard is the
most ergonomically efficient keyboard and mouse alternative on the market.
Dramatically different in appearance from the traditional flat keyboard, the DataHand ergonomic keyboard incorporates unique finger and thumb switch modules within two contoured
hand rests.The DataHand ergonomic keyboard naturally cradles the hands of a user, completely supporting both the hands and arms.
Innovative DataHand key modules wrap the keys three dimensionally around the tips of the fingers to offer unique ergonomic and productivity benefits. Five keys are placed directly
north, south, east, west, and directly below the tip of each finger. Six keyswitches are placed around the thumb. Two of these are below each thumb. The thumb down switches are two
stage switches with the second stage serving as a mode lock. The first level shifts into the mode temporarily, and second level of the switch locks the mode until the switch is
touched again to release it.
The DataHand ergonomic keyboard makes use of natural finger movement capability while maintaining the traditional QWERTY key layout (or for those who prefer it, the Dvorak key
layout can also be chosen). The thumbs are used to shift between the three primary modes: Normal (alphabetical), Numbers and Symbols (placing the numbers on the Home row), and the
Function and Mouse Mode (which places mouse control at the tip of the index fingers). A Ten Key Mode allows single-handed numeric entry.
In addition to Mode Shifting, the thumb operates the Return, Tab, Space, Backspace, Cap Shift, Control (on Command), Alt (or Option) keys. Much time is saved by having these
functions in close proximity to the thumbs.
The DataHand ergonomic keyboard dramatically reduces both variables of the work formula—force and distance. By placing the keys in close proximity to the fingers, finger
travel distance is greatly reduced. Key activation forces are also reduced by 50 percent or more, and operating speed is improved.
In conclusion, greatly reduced chronic workload on the hands and fingers is combined with customizable keyboard adjustability, support, and built-in, programmable mouse
functionality—requiring no hand movements. The result is an optimal keyboard offering users greater comfort, improved safety against the risk of injury, and the opportunity to
become more productive.
No other computer keyboard on the market can offer the DataHand ergonomic keyboard's combination of attributes, features, benefits, and well documented results:
88% reduction in finger travel
80% reduction in finger workload
50% reduction in key activation force
80% reduction in repetitive movements
40% reduction in carpal tunnel involvement
16% average increase in sustainable typing productivity
improved comfort, safety against injury, and health protection
improved accuracy, based on elimination of awkward error factors
zero wrist and hand movement, combined with minimal finger movement
built-in, programmable, vernier mouse requiring no stressful hand movement
three dimensional key module position adjustability to fit user hand size and shape
plug-compatibility with any detachable PC keyboard and mouse (Apple Macintosh and Sun Microsystems computers require
90 day warranty
96.8% customer satisfaction found in user study conducted by the University of Arizona
To embrace the DataHand benefits, the more gentle, less stressful DataHand method of typing and mouse use must be
learned. The DataHand touch and feel is different, and in the judgment of a wide variety of DataHand users, learning it is worth the time it takes. Learning time is part of the
price paid for any valuable new skill. It may seem daunting at first, but skill with the DataHand concept is actually easier to achieve than learning to type on the flat keyboard.
The unique feel of each key helps advance DataHand learning by reinforcing the process with tactile feedback. The fingers do not have to learn a complex array of flight patterns as
they must on the traditional flat keyboard. As with most valuable new skills, time spent learning is a reasonable and expected investment, necessary to embrace the benefits.
Most people transitioning to the DataHand system from the traditional keyboard have been able to achieve 50% of their
flat keyboard speed in a few days, about 75% in a couple of weeks, and 100% in about four weeks. Speed and error reduction can continue to improve for additional weeks thereafter. A
significant number of workers have been able to exceed their flat keyboard speeds within thirty days, but about 25% of workers require somewhat more than thirty days to achieve
their former productivity and go on to new peak levels of speed and efficiency. Required learning time follows a standard bell curve distribution pattern.
The Ergonomic Marketplace
Over recent years, several keyboard manufacturers have developed modestly improved keyboard concepts based around the traditional flat keyboard key layout. They are called
"ergonomic" keyboards, even though they are based around an ergonomically-challenged, old-fashioned key layout left over from the era of mechanical typewriters—long before the
idea of ergonomics entered the English language.
While some variants of the flat keyboard offer customers some alleviation of the physical stress factors associated with flat keyboard work, they each may represent only a small
step in the right direction. One doctor of occupational medicine has been quoted in the press calling these flat keyboard-based alternatives at best a "ten percent solution."
The flat keyboard was designed to meet 19th Century workplace needs, before better technology was available, but the age
of the standard is not the problem. The main question: is this antique, flat keyboard standard sufficient to address modern work demands—or is it an enormous handicap, a
vestigial cultural habit, as unfortunate and unproductive as any other bad habit? Does it represent a failure of imagination and inability to grasp a better way to do things?
The search for an alternative to the flat keyboard and its modestly ergonomic cousins has led some innovative
manufacturers to design data entry pens, voice entry systems, and chorded keyboards (requiring multiple keystrokes to enter a single letter). While these options will have some
applicability, DataHand Systems believes the power of the human hand to perform data entry, data manipulation, computer operation, and text editing will remain
prominent—especially after workers are able to overcome the shortcomings of the awkward, stressful, and less productive flat keyboard concept with a better idea.
The flat keyboard was designed to be intentionally less productive. During the era of the mechanical typewriter, workers
had to be slowed down to prevent the clashing of keys on old-fashioned mechanical typewriters. Tangled key levers was the biggest barrier to productivity at the time. Intentionally
retarded speed was the solution.
Even with the manifest manual challenge of learning to perform keyboard work, hands working on a keyboard are more quick
and agile than the voice. Similarly, they are certainly more efficient than writing with a pen—no matter how good handwriting recognition may become.
Long hours of voice entry can imperil vocal health, just as continuous work on ergonomically inadequate flat keyboards
can threaten musculoskeletal health. Voice entry may seem a good idea when measured against an antique, unsafe, and awkward keyboard design, but it will be much less attractive once
a much better keyboard alternative becomes widely recognized.
Traditional keyboards, even the newer alternative versions, still force operators to conform to arbitrary key locations
and finger travel distances left over from the Mechanical Age—when keys had to be fastened to an array of levers. On these designs, keys are not located conveniently for the
benefit of keyboard operators; users are forced to fit the stressful demands of a tool based on the need to align numerous key levers which now no longer exist in the era of
electronic computer technology.
When the DataHand developmental process began, research and design was centered around the shape and movement
capabilities of the human hand. The goal was to create a keyboard which would enable and promote greater productivity, but productivity gained without ergonomic safety would have
been worthless. The outcome would have been little better than other keyboards already available. To learn more about DataHand history and the DataHand record, see information
provided elsewhere on this website. (The history is told in Section IV of the downloadable DataHand User Testimonials and On-the-Job Evaluations. This document can be obtained on
the Testimonial page of this website.)
The Epidemic of Keyboard-Related Musculoskeletal Injury
According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal, a typical computer user's hands travel 16 miles a day working at a standard keyboard. The striking force expended to hit
the average of 115,200 keys daily is equivalent to lifting 1-1/4 tons with the finger tips alone! Musculoskeletal discomfort and fatigue cause a steady decline in worker
productivity throughout the day, and the long term effects of keyboard work can be painful and debilitating.
The DataHand ergonomic keyboard uniquely addresses the health and safety concerns associated with the use of computers. Repetitive stress injuries (RSI), particularly carpal tunnel
syndrome (CTS), now strike an estimated 185,000 U.S. companies each year. These cases amount to more than half of the occupational illnesses in the United States. They are the
leading cause of lost workdays each year. On average in the United States, a carpal tunnel syndrome claim costs 25 lost work days and $22-33,000 in both medical costs and the cost
of the lost worktime.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U. S. Department of Labor reported 626,000 U. S. workers lost work in 1997
because of musculoskeletal disorders commonly referred to as repetitive stress injuries. 1997 is the most recent year for which data is available. The statistics measure only those
cases serious enough to require time off for recuperation, and they cover all categories of musculoskeletal injury, not just keyboard-related injury.
Respected experts and experienced observers, even within the Department of Labor, believe the victims of keyboard-related
musculoskeletal injury to be undercounted in the data, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates the number of injured workers not requiring
time off to be twice to three times as large as the number requiring recuperation time away from work. A variety of reasons are cited for the low count, including the desire of
workers to avoid disclosing their pain lest the information come to threaten and undermine their career aspirations. Over the past ten years workers have been tacitly encouraged to
manage their pain on their own the best they can. Because industry has wanted to defer attention to the issue, they have paid for the lost productivity in unseen ways. This is a
devil's bargain damaging to companies and employees both in morale and productivity.
Repeated Congressional action deferring federal attention to musculoskeletal injury and the rulings in product liability
cases brought in the courts against computer and keyboard manufacturers has sent a clear message to injured workers: do not expect help from government, the courts, employers, or
computer and keyboard manufacturers. Judges and juries have instructed keyboard workers to assume the health liabilities associated with keyboard work. By court mandate, the risk of
injury is considered part of a job working at a computer. Workers' Compensation insurance is available to assist, but the long Congressional deferral has denied workers the benefit
of advocacy designed to encourage companies to come up with better ways to perform work. Without the benefit of strong affirmation of the proposed solution by recognized experts,
only a few progressive companies have been found willing to employ innovative technologies.
Over the past ten years, responses to the epidemic of musculoskeletal injury have been mostly worker driven. In some
cases, workers have purchased a DataHand keyboard for their own use at work. Those companies which have purchased the DataHand ergonomic keyboard for individual workers have done so
normally because a valuable, well-paid worker has requested it. These workers have had the leverage to get their needs met. Usually, they are not easily replaced. Many times they
have been valuable programmers whose work is important to the success of the company.
In the prevailing policy climate, few companies advocated for worker needs. Fearing potential liability claims, many have
tried to ignore or deny the possibility of work-related musculoskeletal injury, hoping it will go away. Some companies deter communication about a valuable accommodation lest other
workers might start to request it. Some believe workers injury claims to be fraudulent. Assistive equipment purchases are seen as a burdensome cost, not as an opportunity to
introduce cost-effective productivity enhancement. The exceptions to this behavior are more noteworthy than typical.
Even many corporate ergonomists have been negative or passive about tool innovation, focusing instead on stretching,
regular work breaks, and other palliatives. Ergonomists tend to go in the direction their training leads them. They cannot normally be expected to be tool designers or visionaries
capable of understanding the value of an entirely new idea. They are locked as badly as many others into the old flat keyboard paradigm, and perhaps some would not want to solve a
problem which would eliminate their jobs.
The epidemic of musculoskeletal injury is not just a physical epidemic; it is also a politically intensified epidemic.
The extent and amount of injury has been made worse as the result of the political deferral. The unaddressed prior cases from eight years ago compound themselves with additional
unaddressed cases from all the years since then. The issue may have been largely unaddressed and the lost productivity allowed to become invisible, but the victims of injury know
what they have experienced.
As long as workers can be held personally responsible for the problem, industry groups believe nothing much needs to be
done about it. Unless worker productivity is measured, the costs of the dilatory policy are unknown. Corporate Human Resources executives can work around the problem of a few
injured workers without incurring major costs. Initially, a few afflicted workers can be put on disability and replaced, but as the economy has strengthened, the pool of available
workers has become smaller. Recently, the protection of worker productivity and the time required to retrain new workers has become the subject of greater focus. The long-standing
policy has come up for reevaluation.
In spite of the human cost, corporate executives should not be blamed for causing the problem to become worse; they were
acting cautiously and rationally in the face of a problem without a clearly ratified answer, and until recently no widely agreed workplace causality. Only since August, 1998 when
the National Academy of Sciences, at Congressional request, called together a forum of recognized experts to affirm research findings on the subject of causation did a clear
consensus among qualified medical researchers begin to publicly emerge. The final report of the meeting clearly affirmed the reality of work-related causation—in spite of the
recognized existence of secondary contributing factors related to life-style, general health, hobbies, and other stressful activities.
In citing the need for federal ergonomic rules governing workplace response to musculoskeletal injury, the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests the number of injured workers per 1000 full-time employees to be between 10 and 37, annually, depending on the industry. These
annual numbers have been converted by OSHA into a calculation of lifetime worker risk, based on a forty-five year average working lifetime. Depending on the industry in which
workers are employed, the lifetime risk ranges between 2.4% and over 80%—depending upon the intensity of the work performed and the number of musculoskeletal risk factors
associated with the tasks.
An economic value is placed on the issue by citing $15-18 billion annual Workers' Compensation costs for musculoskeletal
disability. This is one-third of all Workers' Compensation expenditures. The OSHA document goes on to project the indirect costs to employers to be in the range of $45-54 billion
annually. If these estimates are even partially correct, they suggest the potential amount of productivity reclaimable if better ergonomic practices can be put in place. Especially
in the area of keyboard work, the best changes and their resultant savings could more than pay for the cost of implementing the programs—if the experience of DataHand Systems,
Inc. provides an accurate indication.
Nevertheless, industry groups are still fighting to maintain the non-responsive status quo out of fear the program
implementation costs could have a negative effect on corporate budgets. The opposite seems plausible if the OSHA assessments are correct. Particularly in the area of keyboard work,
better technology should increase both productivity and profits.
According to the OSHA data, the median number of days away from work for carpal tunnel syndrome cases is 25, compared
with 17 days for fractures and 20 days for amputations. From another vantage, a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study reports 62% of all carpal tunnel syndrome incidents result in
lost workdays of 21 days or more. The BLS study reports 31% of all carpal tunnel cases are keyboard-related.
This picture shows the significant human and financial burden of poor keyboard design once it is acknowledged that the
injuries are substantially caused by keyboard work. As the OSHA report makes clear, musculoskeletal injury is substantially preventable—if appropriate precautions are taken to
reduce the sources of causation. Unless steps are taken, permanent injury can result. Even if rehabilitation is possible, it can take years.
The experience of DataHand Systems, Inc. with many workers supports this conclusion. As the DataHand user testimonials
show, many workers feel their careers have been saved as a result of the change to the DataHand keyboard. The stresses of keyboard work can be relieved by a better keyboard design.
The DataHand ergonomic keyboard is not a medical device; it just addresses the factors causing musculoskeletal injury through improved design. The DataHand keyboard concept is not
complex. The psychology locking in old, out-dated habits is the complex part. This psychology is at the root of the epidemic.
The importance and the value of addressing musculoskeletal injury is made clear by the OSHA information. The cost of
continued delay is high because each year more people join the ranks of the injured and the silently less productive. The matter is more than just a call for charity and humanity;
it has significant implications for national workforce productivity and corporate profitability—especially at a time when the pool of unemployed labor is small and the need
for productive workers high.
Without ability to understand these implications, the effort to address work-related musculoskeletal injury for the
benefit of both workers and companies has been deferred by Congressional action since 1992. The original OSHA ergonomic standards confronting the national epidemic of
musculoskeletal disability were drafted when Elizabeth Dole was Secretary of Labor in the Bush Administration. Only finally in 1999 when the Congress failed to enact a veto-proof
extension of their continuing delay was it possible for OSHA to publicly release its draft rules and proceed with plans to hold public hearings on the rule-making proposal.
The long delay was supported by the claimed insufficiency of the ergonomic science plus industry fear over both the cost
of remedial programs and the cost of liability claims. In this climate denial of responsibility has seemed logical. Some industry spokespeople argue musculoskeletal weakness is
inherited. They view work as one of many possible aggravating factors, not the prominent, proven cause of the injury. Industry lobbyists also say the problem is going away on its
own and as a result of ergonomic programs to institute stretch breaks, improved work habits, and better furniture. Under the argument, government action is not necessary because
industry is managing the problem on its own.
On the other side of the discussion, the proponents of government standards say the problem is not being addressed
quickly enough without Government attention. While some modest improvements are acknowledged as a result of palliative answers, the central issue of causation remains at large, like
a ravishing predator. Better information is demanded, and the academic community is working to provide it. Defensible science takes time, and the presumed benefits of the OSHA
ergonomic program need to be documented.
The OSHA standard is expected to affect only about seven million workers by the end of the first year. At the end of ten
years, the OSHA ergonomic standard will affect the work environment, practices, and tools of 30 million workers. Before many years have passed the controversy will have subsided in
favor of proven answers. Keyboard workers will not be among the first to be directly affected even though the draft OSHA standards look favorably upon companies which act
independently to anticipate possible injury and set up programs designed both to protect workers against injury and to restore previously injured workers to health and productivity.
This incentive may be helpful in encouraging greater action by corporate management.
With labor markets currently constricted, the weight of the economic argument may overcome the desire to wait for
long-term clinical studies to provide a commonly agreed answer all companies can implement harmoniously together. Even now major companies are beginning to see the inadequacy of the
common current corporate point of view and pattern of practice. More are beginning to take progressive action on their own.
As the productivity need and the ergonomic incentive begin to gain traction, companies are expected to become
increasingly interested in products which cost-effectively provide both ergonomic protection and productivity enhancement. Products which can provide a proven three part return on
investment through worker comfort and safety, productivity improvement, and Workers' Compensation savings are rare. The DataHand ergonomic keyboard is believed to be one of a kind
in demonstrating this documented result. Data on all three of these subjects is provided elsewhere on this website.
Meanwhile, many corporate leaders are still awaiting the results of an academic study being advanced currently by the
National Academy of Science (NAS). The results are expected in January 2001. It remains to be seen whether this study will reveal more than the 2000 other studies of musculoskeletal
injury conducted during the twentieth century. Some analysts and critics view the funding of this most recent NAS study as simply another delaying tactic. As long as a major study
is being advanced, opponents can point to the need for the additional data it may be able to reveal.
Some industry groups are hoping this latest NAS study will grant reprieve from the need to take remedial action to help
injured workers, even though history seems to be moving faster than their strategy. Others hope the NAS study will clear up much confusion about the source of the affliction and
give guidance about the right steps needed to fix it. Still others believe the whole study was unnecessary. They claim to know enough already to justify action. OSHA takes the
official position it knows enough to move forward without further delay.
Understandably, business decision makers have wanted to wait until the best answer is widely recognized and affirmed.
Executives have been hesitant to take costly actions without the affirmation of clinical studies and broad acceptance. When the risks of wrong answers are perceived to be high,
safety lies in reliance on group unity. If one company does something other companies hope to avoid, the results can become unsettling for all. Companies prefer the security of
If a solution capable of improving both ergonomics and productivity truly exists, a win is possible for both sides. A
change of viewpoint is necessary to allow recognition and affirmation of the opportunity.
Many people in industry and elsewhere do not like to be the first to take innovative action—on anything. Resistance
to change is part of human nature, and in this case it is an important reason why the costly epidemic of worker injury continues to exist.
Recognizing the common human tendency toward caution when it comes to entering the unknown, people often need to be
goaded. Understanding the most sensible action can be difficult—even when the costs of inaction are great, the risks of injury intolerable, the returns on investment
uncommonly high, and the pay-off quick.
Most technological revolutions have been led by visionary individuals, not by companies where minimization of risk is
considered essential to survival. Historically, those who can afford to defer will do so—for as long as they can. Those whose needs, afflictions, or moral convictions make
waiting intolerable will be the leaders. They will be the people who cure the epidemic.