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Expert: computers should not be a pain in the neck

Media Release – Embargoed until Wednesday, May 11

British expert says computers should not be a pain in the neck – or back, or wrists

People have adapted themselves to their computers for too long instead of customising their machines to suit their needs.

Bill Fine, Senior Consultant for British computer assistance charity AbilityNet says computer users don’t have to accept sore wrists, tingling fingers and sore backs as normal.

“People need to know that computers can, and should, respond to the needs and preferences of every single user. Right now we have got it wrong. We are playing servant to the machine and the longer we do it, the longer we are disadvantaging ourselves, our kids and people with disabilities.”

Bill Fine will be speaking at the Asian Conference of Occupational and Environmental Health in Wellington this week, which is bringing together over 300 international delegates to focus on the emerging health challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

He leads 30 consultants who work for AbilityNet, a charitable organisation which provides computer solutions for people with various disabilities.

Bill Fine says too many people are using their computers without knowing the simple solutions already installed to make life easier. Instead, they carry on with their computer set-up and develop debilitating injuries, like cumulative trauma disorder and carpal tunnel syndrome, that have become modern day office illnesses.

“People sit at expensive computers and accept what they are given. We are supposed to be grateful for this high-tech thing, so we begin to adapt ourselves for its requirements of us. What about the computer asking you about how you like to work, how you function best?”

Bill Fine says many of the solutions for comfortable computer use are either cheap or free – and very easy to implement.

“People would not paint their house brilliant white, yet they are looking at huge areas of white on a computer screen and getting headaches. They do not know they can tone down that white, or use a different background colour on their screen.

“You have people who have difficulty controlling a mouse, or who get pain in their hands, and they don’t know you can use alternative short cuts or ‘hot keys’ instead.”

Being ignorant about the ways in which computers can be customised can have a huge impact on people’s lives, Bill Fine says.

One woman he had helped had been off work for two years, her multiple sclerosis making control over her computer keyboard too difficult.

“When she came to AbilityNet, we found we could tune the keyboard so she didn’t make any more keyboard errors, and we taught her some techniques for typing a lot of characters with a few keystrokes.”

Bill Fine says left-handed people, too, should realise they do not have to put up with a right-handed mouse or a right-handed keyboard.

“Similarly, the separate number pad on a standard keyboard is never used by the majority of computer users, but it forces the user to reach out right for the mouse, a posture that can cause or worsen injury. A simple compact, laptop-style keyboard releases this vital space in front of the right shoulder”

Even people who do not have problems with using a computer should be aware of the solutions available, particularly occupational health professionals and general practitioners who may be treating people with illnesses related to computer use.

“GPs do fantastic work but often their busy jobs don’t allow them time to become aware of these solutions. If they don’t know about these alternatives, then they are not able to point their patients in the right direction.”

Bill Fine says people do not need to know what the solutions are that make computer use easier – they just need to be aware that solutions are available to help everyone, regardless of age or disability.

“If we do not choose our own background colours, or our own fonts, and we do not select the speeds we want our keyboards to work at, or our mouse to work at, then we are not looking for solutions. We are not preparing ourselves to help other people.”

The Asian Conference on Occupational and Environmental Health is hosted by the Asian Association of Occupational and Environmental Health and supported by the New Zealand branch of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine, and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, as well as a range of other occupational health professional organisations.

ACOH 2005 runs from Wednesday, May 11 to Friday, May 13 in the Wellington Convention Centre


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