Sunday, January 25, 2009

A little less strain at the office

Tips for selecting a keyboard ...

"Many Americans are dependent on computer keyboards, using them daily to type everything from e-mails and instant messages to memos and news articles.

All keyboards carry the warning that experts believe use of any keyboard can cause serious injury to hands, wrists, arms, neck, and back. But ergonomic keyboards, designed to ease fatigue and discomfort for the typist, can lessen the risk.

The Globe tested three of the most popular ergonomic keyboards on the market. The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000, at $119.95, was the most "ergonomic-looking" keyboard. The Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave Pro, at $129.99, was the most comfortable. Both the Microsoft and Logitech keyboards come with a mouse. And the $19.99 Kensington Comfort Type Keyboard offered a cheap - if slightly incomplete - alternative.

We liked the Logitech keyboard best because it was the most comfortable device after the initial use and a few days of typing. We also made the fewest typos with it.

The Microsoft product comes with the longest learning curve. The keys are separated, spaced out, and resized. We made a ton of mistakes at first as we basically learned how to type all over again.

Meanwhile, the Kensington keyboard is pretty comfortable, but it doesn't have the fancy multimedia buttons and cushioned wrist pad the other two have. It's also the only corded keyboard we tried, as the other two were wireless.

Karen Jacobs, a board certified ergonomist, occupational therapist, and clinical professor at Boston University, said people should test out a variety of products to see what suits them best.

"One of the things we always tell people to do is to test things out," Jacobs said. "Go to a store where there are lots and lots of keyboards and take a couple of moments to try them. If you find one that feels comfortable, consider taking it home and trying it for a while."

No keyboard will prevent all types of office injuries, Jacobs said, and ergonomic keyboards are only one piece of the puzzle. No matter what keyboard you use, Jacobs said one of the best things you can do when typing is take breaks every 20 minutes or so. On her website, people.bu.edu/ kjacobs/, Jacobs offers free tips on ergonomics including software that helps schedule and coordinate break times.

Additionally, to help prevent injury, Jacobs said, you should keep your keyboard in a tray, below your desk surface. The mouse/input device should go right next to it. This should ensure your arms and elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Your computer monitor should also be placed directly in front of you so you're not twisting and turning your neck and back. A footrest and document holder also come in handy."    (Continued via The Boston Globe, John M. Guilfoil)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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