by Casey Patrick

A little-known, helpful hint for single-hand typists is to use the Dvorak keyboard configuration. The Dvorak keyboard is simply a different arrangement of the letters on the console that has been proven to help speed up typing by 15 to 20 percent, improve accuracy by 50 percent and put less stress on the hand.

Keyboarding can certainly be easier than hand writing for many one-handed amputees, but getting your hand across the keys can also seem like playing chopsticks on a piano. While typing, try watching your own fingers frantically pound away from one row to the next.

A little-known, helpful hint for single-hand typists is to use the Dvorak keyboard configuration. The Dvorak keyboard is simply a different arrangement of the letters on the console that has been proven to help speed up typing by 15 to 20 percent, improve accuracy by 50 percent and put less stress on the hand. August Dvorak designed two such keyboard layouts near the end of World War II for single-hand typists, one for the right hand and one for the left.

In the standard QWERTY configuration, named for the sequence of letters on a keyboard, less than 100 English words can be typed in the home row alone. But the Dvorak home row contains letters in thousands of English words. Your hand does not leave the middle row, bouncing back and forth from the top row to the bottom like in the QWERTY configuration, which can be very advantageous for someone with the use of only one hand.

The QWERTY keyboard was designed in 1874, when typewriters had a tendency to jam, and typists used one or two fingers to "hunt and peck." Christopher Shoals designed the sequence of letters by scattering the most commonly used letters in the English language all across the keyboard to remedy the jamming and actually slow down typing.

The equipment of today can keep up with even the fastest typist, so why does QWERTY prevail? Typewriters evolved to include an inked ribbon, a cylindrical paper cartridge and an accelerating sublever that permitted faster typing, but the keyboard configuration remained the same. QWERTY's early dominance in typing has somehow earned it the status of invincible, and as a result tens of millions of teachers, businesspeople, writers and students live and work by the QWERTY configuration.

Steve Ingram is president of Dvorak International ( http://www.dvorakint.org {Note: New URL: http://www.mwbrooks.com/dvorak/di.html} ), a small, nonprofit organization that sees a "need for people to learn more about Dvorak." Many special education therapists and occupational therapists are not even aware of the help Dvorak offers, Ingram says. One reason for this is that it is not a marketable endeavor. People can access the configuration free of cost.

Personal computers allow you to switch your keyboard to the Dvorak format with a few quick steps without buying a whole new keyboard. Macintosh just recently started offering the Dvorak option in its Mac OS 8 operating system, but the Dvorak layout is not automatically included in the operating systems. It must be added to the system file itself. One simple way to do this is by downloading it from the Internet at http://shareware.cnet.com/.

  1. To change a computer configuration in Windows 3.1 to the Dvorak setting, follow these simple steps:

    1. Open the Main window
    2. Double click on the Control Panel icon
    3. Double click on the International icon
    4. Open the Keyboard Layout list
    5. Click on the US-Dvorak entry
    6. Click on the OK button
  2. For Windows 95:

    1. Click on Start
    2. Click on Settings
    3. Double click on the Control Panel
    4. Click on Keyboard
    5. Click on the Language tab
    6. Click on Properties
    7. Select US-Dvorak for the left or right hand from the drop-down list and back out through 2 OKs

Your keys are now set to the Dvorak configuration. Just remember that without purchasing a new keyboard, the keys will still appear to be "QWERTY." Confusion may also arise if someone else uses your computer, so take advantage of the toggling options between keyboard "languages" so coworkers don't panic if faced with the unfamiliar Dvorak.

Dvorak International publishes a quarterly newsletter filled with news on Dvorak technologies as well as sources for teaching manuals, including one by August Dvorak for $18.95. You can also take advantage of a free single-hand typing tutor created by Bob Harrell. The tutor program is based on typing books used in the past to teach QWERTY, and can be accessed on the Web at http://home1.gte.net/bharrell/index.htm.

Training courses for the Dvorak format do exist, but they are few and far between. Ingram says the best way to master it is by pure self-motivation. So if you want to "play the office piano" faster and with less effort, give Dvorak a shot.

Last updated: 09/18/2008
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