Ergonomic products find the comfort zone

Ergonomic products find the comfort zone<@VM>Zero-Gravity recliner's got your back when you're sitting<@VM>These products support the monitor, mouse and user

Devices that assist disabled workers or simply improve working conditions don't have to be expensive, just effective


Ergonomics isn't far removed from assistive, or adaptive, technology. In fact, the same hardware and software that makes the workplace more convenient and safer for all workers often can be used to make computers accessible to disabled users.

ErgoBoard and WaveRest
Products such as Belkin Components' ErgoBoard keyboard, priced at $39, and WaveRest wrist rest, priced at $13, can pay off in reduced injuries.
The difference between ergonomic and assistive technologies usually is determined by the reason for their use.

A specially shaped keyboard required by a user with a repetitive stress injury (RSI) is adaptive technology, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998.

That same keyboard given to someone who uses it frequently at work would be considered ergonomic because it makes working easier and users can be potentially more productive. At the same time, it might help prevent users from incurring an RSI.

A recent Buyers Guide [GCN, May 28, Page 29] explained adaptive technologies such as braille and speech synthesizers, and screen magnifiers. This guide focuses on general ergonomic devices that can benefit all users, disabled or not.

As RSIs become an ever-greater problem, ergonomic peripherals are turning out to be vital to maintaining the physiology of office workers and keeping them productive.

Simple solutions

But, just as Section 508 compliance can be simple and cheap or complex and expensive, so too can ergonomic products.

You don't always have to throw a lot of money at a problem. Something as simple as longer wires that would allow users to reposition their keyboards, or foot rests, can make a big difference for some users.

Computer desk shapes, monitor and keyboard heights, and lighting all are important ergonomic factors.

Offering different keyboards and pointing devices to users who want them is the simplest, least expensive and often most important ergonomic change you can make.

And while taking breaks from a workstation helps a lot, keep in mind that a change often is as good as a rest. RSIs are caused by repeating identical movements over long periods of time, so consider having several kinds of keyboards in the office and require that users alternate them from time to time, just as they change passwords. The temporary productivity dip could be offset by long-term injury reduction.

The Lowdown

' What is it? Ergonomic products increase the comfort of users and decrease the chances of repetitive stress and other injuries.

' Why do I need it? You could probably find people who argue that you don't need it at all, but ergonomic chairs, monitor attachments, wrist rests and other products can significantly improve working conditions and can contribute to reductions in repetitive stress injuries and increases in productivity.

' Price? Products range from inexpensive foot rests and wrist rests to adjustable chairs and workstations that cost more than $1,000. All of them can be worth the price, but remember that simple solutions'installing longer cords to allow a keyboard to be repositioned, having users rotate keyboards, or dimming the lights in some areas'can also effectively improve ergonomic conditions.

' Must-know info? Ergonomic technology overlaps with assistive or adaptive technology. The main difference is the reason for using them, which could affect the budget category you use when purchasing the products.

Many offices are still lighted for people writing in ledgers and typing on typewriters; dimmer lighting is better for computer users. But if it's difficult or expensive to alter the lighting, you might add swivel stands to monitors, alter monitor heights and angles, add anti-glare filters, or even use permanent shades to keep reflected light off monitors.

As for monitors themselves, large displays or those with sharp text and images are always easier to use, but they are expensive. Fortunately, there are inexpensive devices that can help.

Screen help

Several companies make an array of anti-glare filters, monitor visors'if you're really on a tight budget, you can tape a cardboard hood to a monitor to block the offending light source'and even magnifiers.

A magnifier isn't cheap'it might cost the same to buy a large monitor as to buy a small one and a magnifier, though the small monitor will weigh less and take up less desk space.
Many anti-glare filters also block potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields.

Positioning monitors can be tricky, especially because it's best to move them around from time to time. To eliminate neck strain and to free precious desk space you can add a monitor arm or stand.

Monitor arm pricing ranges from a basic $50 model to high-end units that cost $300 but can hold 80-pound monitors securely in many positions.

Mounting options include desk clamps, flat mounts fastened to a surface, wall mounts, and extended mounts that clamp not just to a tabletop but extend to the bottom edge of a desk.
Simple risers sell for as little as $5 and are better than a stack of books because they provide under-monitor storage.

Protecting hands and wrists, of course, is key to avoiding RSI. Whether built into a keyboard, laid on a desk or attached to existing keyboards, foam or gel rests can be a big help for users who are unable to hold a keyboard in their lap.

Evolution of theory

The ultimate ergonomic workstation would have to be one that has an adjustable height and a separate mouse arm and monitor support. This can be surprisingly inexpensive'Global Computer's Hi-Low Adjustable Workstation, for example, is priced at $229.

But no matter what ergonomic product you choose, remember that ergonomics is an evolving science. For example, back supports used to be widely recommended and used but recent studies have shown they are essentially useless and possibly even dangerous because they provide a false sense of security.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected].For the past nine years I've been using a BackSaver Zero-Gravity Classic Recliner from BackSaver Products. The same model is still available, so this is a long-term view of an ergonomic seating product.

My chair has a lightweight steel frame that is easy for one person to adjust. The frame is bent in two places to accommodate the hips and knees of an average-size person, and there are versions for taller and shorter people.

The frame is covered with a thin but strong cloth cover, to which you add a very thick and heavy body-length leather cushion. I use a WonderFoam pressure/heat-sensitive cushion that conforms to your body after a few minutes.

The entire seating area is precisely balanced so that when two knobs are loosened you can adjust the rigid frame from being just slightly tilted to where your feet are higher than your body.

BackSaver Products has other versions of this chair made of wood or incorporating power tilt mechanisms, but I've found that it is so well-balanced that only a slight push is needed to adjust the seating angle.

I am just able to place my elbows inside the cushioned arms, and the arms do not interfere with holding a keyboard on my lap. In my experience this chair is extremely comfortable.

Despite daily use'up to 12 hours per day'this chair and the cushion still look and feel like new.

Cushion slips down

There is one annoying problem with this chair: The Velcro patches used to hold the heavy leather cushion in place are woefully inadequate. About three times a week, the cushion slips so far down that I have to refasten it in the correct position.

The separate headrest is a heavily padded pillow and is slightly adjustable. It's held by two straps that attach to the same Velcro pads as the large cushion. I don't use it when sitting upright but flip it in place when reclining.

Not only do I spend long hours every day at a computer, I also have a bad back, hips and knees. There are times when this is the only chair in my office or home where I can sit without pain. It's proved to be well worth the $1,300 investment. The company lists a starting price for the chair at $995.

'John McCormick

Vendor Product Category Description Price
Allseating Corp.

Mississauga, Ontario

Back Track 4000 Chair Seating Vertical and horizontal arm support $300 up
Classic Recliner Seating Contoured full-support chair that tilts to any angle $995 up
BackSaver Products Co.

El Segundo, Calif.

Management Chair Seating 10-way adjustable office chair with arms $1,595 up
Adjustable Foot Rest Seating Foot rest $40
Swivel Posture Chair Seating Adjustable back support with knee pad $140 up
Ergorest Arm Support Hand and arm Clamps to desk, provides support $39 up
Portable Back and Seat Support Seating Padded and curved seat and back pad for office chairs $125 up
Adjustable Workstation Workstation Fully adjustable workstation $399 up
Belkin Components

Compton, Calif.

WaveRest Hand and arm Gel mouse pads and wrist rests $10 to $13
ErgoBoard Hand and arm 108-key split keyboard $39
Ergo Industrial Seating

Systems Inc.

Mississauga, Ontario

2000 Multi Tilt Chair Seating Medium-back chair with arm options $425 up
3000 Multi Tilt Chair Seating High-back chair with arm options $625 up
4000 Multi Tilt Chair Seating Pneumatic-back-adjustment chair with nine arm options $591 up
Ergorest OY

Siilinj'rvi, Finland

Ergorest Hand and arm Clamp-on adjustable forearm support $109
Ergorest Mouse Pad Hand and arm Attaches to ErgoRest $31
Fellowes Manufacturing Co.

Itasca, Ill.

Standard Lite View 16 Monitor accessory Tinted anti-glare screen for 16- to 17-inch monitors $48
Standard Lite View 19 Monitor accessory Same for 19- to 21-inch monitors $72
Magnifying Screen 15 Monitor accessory Plastic magnifier for 15-inch monitor $120
Monitor Riser Plus Monitor accessory Supports 60-pound monitor, includes copy holder and drawer $48
Standard Monitor Arm Monitor accessory Clamp-on monitor arm supports 45 pounds $36
Adjustable Gel Wrist Rest Hand and arm Keyboard with wrist rest $24
Ergodyne Foot Rest Seating Angle- and height-adjustable foot rest $48
Flex Rest Inc.

Brewster, Mass.

Clamping Mouse Tray Hand and arm Mouse pad clamps to table $40
FL-5000-PM Hand and arm Slide-out, height- and tilt-adjustable keyboard and mouse tray $169
Global Computer

Supplies Inc.

Port Washington, N.Y.

Adjustable Footrest Seating Angle adjustable $24
Height Adjustable Footrest Seating Height- and angle-adjustable $40
Easy Float Monitor accessory Flat-, wall- or clamp-mount monitor arm that supports up to 35 pounds $170 up
Extend-a-Float Monitor accessory Same but more range and supports up to 55 pounds $200 up
CRT Shuttle Monitor accessory Single-arm support for monitor and keyboard $210
Economy Monitor Arm Monitor accessory Clamp-on support for up to 50-pound monitor $55
Hi-Low Adjustable Workstation Workstation Pneumatically assisted height-adjustable table with separate keyboard adjustments $229
Rosemount Office Systems Inc.

Lakeville, Minn.

Velocity Electric Sit-Stand Table Workstation Monitor support with swing-lift keyboard support $952
SIS Human Factor

Technologies Inc.

Londonderry, N.H.

Sit Stand Table with Crank Workstation Adjustable-height, split-level computer desk $585
Sit Stand Table Hydraulic Workstation Includes spring-assisted hydraulic adjustment $755
Model 5220 Workstation Bi-level, height-adjustable 36-by-30-inch desk $1,142
3M Office Ergonomics Inc.

St. Paul, Minn.

BL10XL Monitor accessory Anti-glare filter for 16 - to 19-inch monitors $46
BF20XL Monitor accessory Anti-glare and anti-radiation filter for 16- to 19-inch monitors $60
AF100XL Monitor accessory Better quality anti-glare filter for 16- to 19-inch monitors $70
AF100XXL Monitor accessory Better quality anti-glare filter for 19- to 21-inch monitors $99
HF300XL Monitor accessory Circular polarized anti-glare filter for 16- to 18-inch monitors $128
HF3000XXL Monitor accessory Circular polarized anti-glare filter for 19- to 21-inch monitors $158
Mouse Wrist Rest Hand and arm Gel-filled 26-inch keyboard and mouse wrist rest $60
VIA Inc.
Sparks, Nev.
Axia Seating

Adjustable seat depth and arms $990
Sola 2413 Chair Seating

Sliding seat, adjustable arms, rotating arm caps $773 up


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