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Solutions for Computer Stress 

by Jo Freeman

Do you spend many hours in front your computer almost every day? Are your eyes blurry by the time you finish? Do the muscles at the rear of your neck ache? Does pain shoot through the same places in your hands, wrists or arms?

Computers weren't designed for people and vice versa. The engineers who put them together, not to mention the non-engineers who put them on desks, knew nothing about ergonomics. The knowledge of a hundred years ago that went into designing secretarial desks suitable for typewriters seems not to have been passed on to their grand children, and typewriters aren't computers anyway.

For over a decade people have been putting their computers on top of their writing desks and putting their monitors on top of their computers and suffering the consequences. My right arm hasn't been the same since I bought my first notebook computer slightly over a year ago, and I've often thought that libraries deliberately put monitors and keyboards too high for comfort to keep clients from using them too long.

At the recent Digital Expo in Washington DC I finally met someone who cares, and who sees it as his mission to educate the users and misusers of computers how to minimize discomfort. Dr. Stephen L. Glasser, an optometrist who specializes in treating "computer vision syndrome" brought his office staff and his expertise there to educate the public. Some of his recommendations:

  • The keyboard should be positioned so that the back of your hands form a straight line with your lower arms and are parallel to the ground. You shouldn't have to bend your wrists to type.

  • Eyes should look down into the computer screen, not straight ahead, and certainly not up. Any higher will cause neck stress. Correct position is particularly a problem for those who wear bifocals, as one often bends the neck back to see the screen from the "near" lens. Aging eyes often require special computer glasses, with a single lens.

  • Monitors should be 20 to 30 inches from the eyes. Aim the screen directly at your face, not on an angle to it.

  • Reduce the lighting in the room to compensate for the extra light coming from the screen. This will also reduce glare and reflection. If you need more light to see the papers next to your computer, use a non-flourescent desk light that shines only where you need more light.

  • Position your computer so that windows are to the side, not in front or behind. You may want to cover the windows when using the computer to reduce reflection and glare. Your eyes need just so much light and monitors are quite bright.

  • A good typing chair will help a lot. But chose one with arm rests and lower back support that still leaves at least two inches between the back of your knees and the front of the chair. If necessary, use a backrest. There are products on the market to help reduce muscle stress and eyestrain even more.

  • A circular polarizing filter can be put over your screen to help reduce glare.

  • An adjustable keyboard tray which attaches under your desk will let you position the keyboard for maximum comfort. You should also be able to adjust the tilt.

  • An ergonomic mouse shaped somewhat like a joystick allows your hand to grip it in the same way you would hold a broom while your thumb does the clicking. This is more natural and less stressful than the standard horizontal mouse clicked by your index finger.

  • If eyestrain is still a problem you can buy glasses with special coatings and lenses made specifically for computer use.

  • You may also need a padded wrist wrest if simply letting your fingers hang naturally isn't enough. One of these days ergonomic computer desks will do what the old fashioned typing desks did, but until then take care of your body. Fit your writing space to it, not the other way around.

    Some of these products can be viewed at www.3M.com/ergonomics.

    Read Jo's article, Seen at the Show: TechXNY/PC Expo 2002

 

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