As you may or may not know, I was born with a disability that gives me only limited use of my right hand. As such, I do pretty much 100% of my typing with my left.1 These days I just use the standard QWERTY layout, but there was a period of a few years – between about 2008 and 2016 – that I instead used this beauty:

The Dvorak left-hand keyboard layout
The Dvorak left-hand keyboard layout, as shown on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I remember it fondly. I wouldn’t say typing feels uncomfortable for me now, but typing with the Dvorak left-hand layout just felt better. My raw typing speed got a little faster,2 but my accuracy was incredibly better, meaning that my net typing speed (as in, raw typing speed minus time spent fixing typos) improved considerably.

Between about 2008 and late 2011, it was pretty much the only keyboard layout I used. From 2011 to 2016, I still used it on my main, personal computer (a 15.6" laptop), but started using QWERTY on some other devices (I got a smartphone that didn’t support left-hand Dvorak, so I used QWERTY there; work computers were set to QWERTY; in 2015 I got a tiny, ultra-portable laptop and never bothered switching it away from QWERTY). At the end of 2016 I replaced my old primary laptop with a desktop computer, and because I figured others (namely Vivian) might want to use it sometimes too, I didn’t switch its keyboard layout away from QWERTY. So, that was when my time using left-hand Dvorak came to an end.

It’s sort of unfortunate, because as I mentioned, I did prefer using this layout. I’d got well past the painful transition stage when you’re learning to use it, which would’ve been the more typical time to give up. There were a number of factors that all contributed to me reverting to the default QWERTY:

  • Dvorak left-hand was more efficient for me when it was the only thing I used. Having to switch back and forth made me slower to “warm up” for typing because I’d always have to take a second to have it “click” in my head what layout I was typing on. So, getting a smartphone and a job marked the beginning of the end, in retrospect.
  • Probably more significant was the changing design of laptop keyboards. When I first switched in 2008, the laptop I was using at that time used scissor-switch mechanisms, so you could lift up the keycaps and physically move them around the board. I liked that! By the time I upgraded to my next laptop in 2010, manufacturers had moved to chiclet keyboards. On these the keys were fixed in place, so if you wanted any visual indication of your new layout, you had to cover the keycaps in stickers. I did this, but it looked so ugly 😢 Then backlit keys came into vogue, and there came to be another disincentive to putting stckers on the keys. And because I could never learn typing the “traditional” way, I’ve never been good enough at touch-typing to be able to handle a keyboard where the keycaps are all “wrong”. I can touch-type until I make a typo… then I need to glance at the keyboard to reorient myself.
  • Another issue was that sometimes, if I managed to fuck up my Linux install and got dropped to terminal, the terminal would be set to QWERTY. I would then have to fix my install by typing commands in QWERTY with zero visual indication of where any of the keys were, and it would take forever and add to the stress I was already feeling about fucking up my install. It’s not like this was insurmountable, because I’m not exactly fucking up my Linux distro very often (btw I do not use Arch)… but it did mean that whenever I had to set up a new computer and deal with random driver issues, it would be a tempting time to “just use QWERTY”.

What prompted this trip down memory lane? Well, I read this blog post, about switching to Colemak(external link). I’m definitely less familiar with Colemak, but for the vast majority of typists who are two-handed, it seems like an easier sell than Dvorak. It makes fewer changes from the traditional QWERTY layout – just moving the most frequently-used letters to the home row, and keeping those keys that are used really often in keyboard shortcuts like Z, X, C and V in the same place – so it’d be less disruptive (although still somewhat disruptive) to learn. The main thing I wouldn’t like about it is that it replaces CapsLock with an extra backspace key… as a one-handed typist, I really need CapsLock!3 But there are many people who wouldn’t find that a deterrent.

There are no formal one-handed versions of Colemak,4 making it a bit of a non-starter for me. If I still have to stretch and move my hand wildly back and forth across the keyboard to reach key positions designed and optimised for two hands, I might as well stick with QWERTY 🙂 Furthermore, even if one existed that was relatively widely-supported, I’ve already learned the Dvorak left-hand layout and probably still have the muscle memory, just buried deep somewhere, waiting to be resurrected.

Ultimately, if I did try picking a left-handed layout up again, the main reason would be increased comfort. Increased accuracy would be nice too, I guess. Time wasted fixing typos is much more noticeable than time wasted because your speed is like, 20% slower than it could be 😂 I’d also want to work out what to do about the physical keyboards, because I can’t really change the layout on the desktop keyboard that Vivian also uses, and I still feel ughhh about putting stickers over the backlit keys of my MacBook Air. I guess I could try getting a cheap Bluetooth keyboard, putting stickers on that, and hot-swapping. But I feel like the flakiness of cheap Bluetooth devices might cause more typos than my QWERTY skills!

  1. I mean, I can hold down a single key with my right hand if I need to for an awkward key combination (ahem, Ctrl-Alt-Delete) or something, but it moves with such a lack of finesse that it’s not useful for regular typing. ↩︎

  2. I no longer remember what it got to, but my current typing speed on QWERTY is around 67wpm, even taking into account time spent fixing typos, apparently. ↩︎

  3. As a teenager, I tried teaching myself not to rely on CapsLock, because I felt insecure seeing assholes on the internet sneer “the only people who use CapsLock are bad typists, what a useless key”… but surprise surprise, it turned out these assholes were definitely not accounting for people with disabilities who need to type with one hand. I already find it uncomfortable to stretch my hand across the keyboard to hit Shift+4, 5, 6 or 7 to produce $, %, ^ or & for example… it would suck to have to do the same to capitalise any letter in the middle of the keyboard, too. In fact, while I guess I would need to go through an adjustment period, if anything I’d be tempted to expand CapsLock’s function to some kind of ShiftLock. ↩︎

  4. It looks like there are some unofficial proposals for one… for example, this random forum post(external link) has one that looks like pure chaos, while this forum thread(external link) provides a couple of “mirrored Colemak” layouts that purport to be good for one-handed use… but mirroring requires specialised software or equipment, so is not exactly as simple as selecting “Colemak - Left-Handed” in System Settings. ↩︎