RSI and the Maltron Keyboard

Question: For some months now I’ve been having a nagging ache/pain in my ring fingers and little fingers and the back of my hands. It gets worse if I have to spend extended times typing. For example, from September to about February is our busiest time of year, and I spend a lot of time at the computer. I’m also a pianist, and in recent months I’ve had to give up most of my playing for pleasure. I’ve been thinking of purchasing a Maltron keyboard (for my computer!), because after some research, I feel that this would probably be a good solution to the problem. Does anyone have any experience with this particular keyboard (good *or* bad). Can anyone suggest any alternatives that have worked for them in a similar situation (preferably including a contact address/phone, etc)? Any feedback would be most welcome. Many thanks in advance for your help. Best regards

Answer 1: As well as the Maltron keyboard, look into getting some voice recognition software. Dragon Systems, Kurweil and IBM produce various systems. Dragon Dictate is around $150 (yes $, I have no UK price at the moment) including a microphone. You just need a PC with a soundcard as well. The Computability Centre near Warwick will be able to help find you a reseller in the UK. One of the subscribers to this list (Nuala Davis <davisnm@sun1.bham.ac.uk>) works there. Also find yourself a good physio (you may have to pay to see one) who knows about treating RSI. The pains in your little fingers sound to me as though they come from reaching for the Ctrl and Enter keys.

Answer 2: I can’t comment about your keyboard but I can comment about the mouse. I had probably as severe an attack of RSI as anyone could possibly have, which 2 years ago, meant that I lost the use of both arms completely, and could not even feed myself or hold a pen without feeling violently sick. I eventually got partial use of my arms back, but am left with a residue permanent condition that simply will not go away. I am now registered disabled, and cannot work at all. My condition was caused by me being forced to do a highly damaging job at work in industry that was not my normal job. I warned my employers of the danger, but they insisted that I continue without rotation or rest until my right arm was totally dead. They then insisted that I continue with my left arm until that was totally dead too. I have never worked since. Since the injury I obtained the computer as I could not write, and use it in short stints, but not much typing. I live on a variety of drugs to enable me to function at all. I wanted a soft keyboard, and I have a soft one that came from a computer fair. It is generic and no particular brand. However, I hunted high and low for the softest possible mouse. I even looked at ones that cost 200 pounds, but they were no good. I then found a wonderfully soft mouse, but it is not made for PC’s. It is made by Canon for their word processors. Look out for one in an office equipment store, and get them to order as an accessory. It works perfectly with PC’s and only costs 15 pounds. I’ve never known one softer on the hands. Model number ECM-S3101. Try one- it is a dream to use. 

Answer 3: I used the Maltron keyboard for 3 years and found it very helpful. It is definitely more comfortable than the standard layout and should ease your problem. However, it is largely restricted to touch typing of text: i.e. it is much less useful for number/figure intensive tasks such as spreadsheets, software & databases. Unfortunately, use of the Maltron did not solve my problem. I am currently using voice recognition software (Kurzweil) which I would strongly recommend you investigate. With a good machine this is very powerful and is also very user-friendly.

Answer 4: I do mostly numbers and spreadsheets on my Maltron; I’ve got the NUMDATA version which is all letters on the left hand and all numbers on the right hand, there is also the horrid flat number pad in the middle as well so you can swap hands. However, I do tend to cheat with the ctrl and arrow keys (all on the thumb pads) and use the keyboard incorrectly because it’s quicker (typical RSI person rushing on the keyboard!) Although the problems I have with ctrl keys sticking and the odd beep and the number 7 being thrown onto my spreadsheet, are a pain, I find it much more comfortable (and faster to use – I know, I know, defeats the object) than a normal keyboard.

Answer 5: I tried a Maltron for a couple of months and it did not help. For me, it relieved the pain for a while, but it soon came back. It was as if my hands got used to the new position. I find that the pain is caused by having the hands in the same position for periods of time, whether it be typing, driving, or holding my baby! Of course, RSI comes in many forms and you may find an ergonomic keyboard beneficial. I was not impressed with the quality of the Maltron keyboard. It is very much a low-volume product and was not pleasant to use AD some of the keys stuck in the down position, which was unacceptable. Also, there were a number of compatibility problems with my Macintosh. To be fair to Maltron, they offered to look into the compatibility problems, but I had lost confidence in the product. I did find an American ergonomic keyboard on the internet which looked more professional. It’s made by Kinetics, sorry, I don’t have a URL but if you search on the name it should come up. I’ve solved my problem by using PowerSecretary VR software. A number of people have asked me to post my experiences. When I get a moment I will do – promise!

Answer 6: I found the Maltron keyboard was made for large hands. I have relatively small hands and it was a stretch. I now use a cherry ergonomic keyboard which is fine but has not particularly helped my RSI. I had another strange experience with the Gregory chair. This is a relatively new chair and it is recommended by PACT and others. It has a curved back to support the lumbar region. Well, yours truly is five feet tall, so I found that the curve reached more than half-way up my back! Definitely not ergonomic!!!

Answer 7: Try www.kinesis-ergo.com/. The only problem with this keyboard is that they don’t have any UK resellers, so it could be difficult trying it out. 

Answer 8: The Maltron is definitely not a cure for RSI – you need to do other things at the same time, e.g. stretching regularly, taking breaks, learning self massage, Alexander etc. However it is definitely MUCH better than a flat keyboard for intensive typing – I have used it for several years and occasionally gone back to flat keyboards on client sites and regretted it. I am probably going to buy another one so I can have one at home as well as work. I did not have any problem with stuck down keys, and it is generally quite well made, although it looks rather primitive. The name is Kinesis. Curious that they came after Maltron and are astonishingly similar…

Answer 9: I have had some problems with Ctrl keys sticking, but curiously enough only on a Thinkpad system, never on a Dell PC. Seems to be PC specific.

Answer 10: This must be subjective – I have quite small hands and find it is OK. The thumbs are a bit of a stretch perhaps, but the overall stretch is nothing like the huge little finger stretches on flat keyboards. Generally it is far less tiring than using a flat keyboard – in fact a good session of hammering away at the Maltron (yes I do hit the keys too hard) is almost relaxing.

Answer 11: During a discussion with the owner of Kinesis, I learned that there apparently was some early discussions with Maltron before Kinesis went their own way. I can’t remember the specifics but it does explain the similarities.

Answer 12: I have been using one of these for a couple of months now and, while Iit didn’t seem to have an instant effect (does anything?), I certainly feel it is contributing to my recovery. For me, certainly, getting (my employer to get) a Maltron with built-in *Trakball* was a definite improvement, since I feel the mouse (HATE, HATE) was to blame for a lot of my problems. Typing on the Maltron is also more comfortable (once you find where the keys have been hidden!) since the keys have little resistance and trigger before ‘hitting the bottom’. You therefore get less of the jarring effect on your fingers. It did slow my typing down considerably to begin with since, although I used most of my fingers, my hands used to share the central area of the keyboard. Now I am forced to type properly since the key layout is split in two, and my typing is pretty much back to the speed it was before!

(My flavour of RSI tends to concentrate more in the wrist area (above and below) and begins with a warming feeling, followed by a dull ache and later, pain, sometimes also affecting my fingers.) The only gripes I have are that since the Ctl and Alt keys are now placed for the thumb to use, it is more of a stretch to press Alt-Tab or Ctl-tab, Ctl-esc – all the task-switching combinations. Since the insert keys has moved to the central pad, I have also found the Ctl-x/c/v cut/paste shortcuts easier than the old shift-delete/Ctl-insert/shift-insert I used to use. And it does seem a bit plasticky for the amount you pay for it! On the whole, though, I think it is doing its bit towards my recovery. And nope, no sticky keys here.

Answer 13: By way of comment to your message, I admit that the Kinesis keyboard may look more professional than ours. But I doubt if it is quite as ergonomic, the reason is that it is as close a copy of ours as they could get. They bought 2 of ours to start selling them, subsequently broke off license discussions and then a few months later produced their own version. At least they confirmed our design excellence, and must have put a lot of money into hard tooling which we have not been able to do. On the other hand our method of making them gives us a flexibility of fitting extra keys or other customising which they can’t do. For instance, our new letter layout (The M/Q key) reduces finger work to about 1/10th of Qwerty and the Num/Data layout puts all the numbers in the Right or Left finger groups as preferred, (order option) but reverts to Qwerty by pressing the N/Q key as it then is. As mentioned before over 500 operators are back at work by changing to a Maltron.


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