Like most people I probably spend far too much time in front of my laptop checking Facebook, reading emails, e-shopping, blogging and otherwise managing my life. And most of the time, my neck, shoulders and back hurt. Did you know that all office furniture is designed for the average male, 5 ft. 11″ tall? Just another example of a male-dominated take on how the world goes round. Despite all the high-tech considerations that go into designing computer desks I have not yet been able to achieve ergonomic nirvana. Let’s back up a little and I’ll explain how this situation came about.
When I learned to type in high school in the early sixties, we used manual typewriters. Part of our training required we sit with our forearms parallel to the floor with our feet side by side and flat on the floor. As a result of that being drilled into my head more than fifty years ago, I still cannot veer from my training. Whenever I sit and type with my legs crossed at the ankles or (worse) the knees, the circuits linking my fingers and eyes to my brain become hopelessly scrambled. Unless my feet are flat on the floor and parallel, to this day I cannot type without making errors. When I assume the proper posture, the words fly by error-free. Therefore, like famous speed-typist Mavis Beacon who set records in the fifties for her error-free typing speed (176 wpm on a manual typewriter), I must have ideal conditions to perform at my optimum level. For this, I need optimum ergonomics, which I do not currently have.
In the olden days, office desks had slide-out typewriter shelves that were positioned exactly 27 inches from the floor, a full five inches lower than the surface of the desk at 30-32 inches, which as stated above was designed for a 5 ft. 11 inch man. At 27 inches a ‘typist’ (i.e. female) could keep both feet flat on the floor, forearms parallel to the floor and type with minimal discomfort to shoulders, neck and arms.
In a step backwards for feminism, the advent of computers, both desktop and laptop, the typewriter shelf was eliminated from desks and everyone regardless of size or gender is now forced to work on a surface 30-32 inches from the floor. Are you following all this? I’m a right-brainer with zero aptitude in math and even I get it. Standard desk surfaces are up to five inches too high for the average female to type comfortably. No amount of adjusting chair heights corrects this anomaly.
- Raise chair five inches. Feet no longer sit flat on floor and are left to dangle around base prongs. Thighs are crushed against bottom of desk surface or drawer.
- Leave chair at height that allows feet to sit on floor. We are forced to raise arms and shoulders to reach keyboard. Result: strain and pain.
Is there a solution?
One solution is adjusting the work surface to 27 inches which can be done with some adjustable tables or custom furniture. That accommodates the requirement for feet flat on the floor and forearms parallel to floor which is great for typing/keyboarding. But if you’re working on a laptop, the screen is now too low and has to be tilted to a 45-degree angle to read it square on. More head and neck pain. I’ve never understood how people can actually work on their laptops on their laps. I need a solid surface that doesn’t wobble around while I’m typing. And a sturdy chair that supports my back. Perhaps that’s just because I’m old and conditioned by a sixties typing drill instructor.
Achieving ergonomic heaven
Here’s what this 5 ft. 3 inch old boomer needs to be ergonomically comfortable when working on my computer, starting from the ground up:
- Chair seat 18 inches from floor
- Keyboard on surface 27 inches from floor
- Screen centered 41 inches from floor and 16 inches directly in front of my eyes
If I could achieve this combination I would be a much happier and more comfortable blogger. The only way I can see accomplishing this is with custom millwork. If I had a work surface built at 27 inches, I would need the computer screen/monitor mounted on the wall on a sliding or folding bracket that could be pulled out to the correct distance when I’m working or pushed back when I’m not.
In the meantime, I’m condemned to reach my arms up to a height of 30+ inches to use my keyboard. My shoulders are hunched and my back hurts. Thanks to the geniuses who design office furniture, I don’t see a solution on the market that gives the average woman (fifty percent of the population) the ergonomically correct configuration for using a laptop. Just another example of gender discrimination that men don’t even have to think about. It’s still a man’s world. If you’ve managed to stay awake while reading this, let me know if I’m the only one with this problem or are you uncomfortable too?
Again your “words of wisdom” are appreciated. Not that I think anything is going to be done any time soon. We put up with a lot that we don’t even think about. I enjoyed your perspective.