Ergo tools for techwriters and similar workers

Subject: Ergo tools for techwriters and similar workers
From: Kevin McL <editorialstandards -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:13:36 -0400

You look like a bunch of good kids, but look at all those CRT/LCD tans.
That can't be good for you.

I'm a 25-year tech writer, addressing some ergonomic concerns today.

First, some general advice - don't get old.

Second, if you insist on getting old, some info that might be useful.

Research (left as an exercise for the reader to find it) suggests that
the seated posture is bad for us, and not merely because of the
relative inactivity all day. Apparently, being seated for more than a
few minutes alters the metabolism and the function of various
musculo-skeletal elements, and none of it in a good way.

Those of you with big bank accounts have already gotten the message
and purchased walking workstations for $4000-plus from Steelcase.
Others must make do with lesser fixes.

I have tried various solutions to ameliorate back pain (lower and
upper), and the best so far has been the Kangaroo Adjustable Height
Desk from
I use the Elite version to support two displays. It sits on a desk and
holds display(s), keyboard, mouse, etc. It can be raised to
accommodate standing while working/typing, or lowered to accommodate
the seated position. The action is quick and smooth and is assisted by
gas-filled struts. I find the platform sufficiently stable in its
extended position.

I've been using mine for a few weeks (after a cubicle neighbor bought
one), and my lower back is feeling much better, thank you.

The cubicle neighbor also stands on a wobble board when using his
workstation. This helps almost the entire body.

I am not as advanced/athletic as he, so I use a two-inch-thick
closed-cell foam pad instead (from It is not as
balance-demanding as the wobble board/balance board, but it has the
advantage that its platform is not hard. Therefore, I can stand in
bare feet (or socks) and my feet continually move and flex. They would
not do that on a hard platform, even one that wobbles. This is helpful
to heal plantar fasciitis and other ailments of the foot.

I am six feet (1.82m) tall, and the travel of the Kangaroo is alright
for me. It doesn't come up quite high enough, especially when I stand
on the additional 2 inches (5cm) of foam. That would place my arms in
an ergonomically poor typing position while standing, so I purchased
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which has a high palm-rest
and tips down away from the user - the opposite of most keyboards
intended for seated use. My arms and hands now have the proper
orientation for safe typing. The wave surface of the keyboard is an
additional benefit (raised split in the middle, dished slightly on
either side of the center hump).

The Kangaroo would therefore not be suitable for someone taller than I
am, unless they intended to use it only in the standing position, in
which case they could "shim" under the platform foot. Persons my
height and shorter should be well served.

Benefits include:
- enforces better posture and increased mobility during the day
- more calories burned (compared to lengthy sitting)
- better breathing
- greater alertness and ability to focus
- good, simple, rugged, functional design - not much to break
- does not require any modification of standard office furniture - it
just sits on a desk - no floor-space requirement
- shipped assembled - only "assembly" is to mount your VESA
monitor(s) [Allen wrench/hex key supplied] and route your cables


- approx. $600 (for Elite model) plus $100 to ship in North America -
a little pricey, but it costs what it costs
- additional $60 for keyboard (or need to jury-rig a shim) if you are
- standard design would not handle monitors larger than about 23
inches (custom can be had at extra cost) - it's an issue of spacing,
more than weight of two monitors
- not ideal for taller persons due to limitation of vertical travel
- when standing, I can see over my cubicle - more distraction now
- because the platform is integrated, it forces you to stand fairly
close to your displays - older writers might need reading glasses for
work, sooner than they otherwise would.

Advantage redux:
- because it pushes you to start using the reading glasses, it gets
you to stop straining your eyes all day in denial of presbyopia; you
no longer find that your vision is fuzzy when you step away from your
desk as your eyes slowly relax from extended straining
- there is now one whole side of the building from which my boss
cannot sneak up on me (see above "I can see over my cubicle")

NOTE: do not try to get around the distance-to-monitor problem (for
older eyes), by standing farther back and reaching to the keyboard.
This will cause shoulder, upper-back, and eventually neck problems.

OBSERVATION: The assembly is lightweight and tall-ish, so if you lean
on the front edge, the unit can flex and wobble. At first, I thought
of this as a fault or a disadvantage. After more thought, I realize
a) it hasn't come close to toppling, so the design is sound
b) by encouraging the lightest of hands when typing and mousing, it
encourages good posture.

I had a homemade tower to accomplish standing while working, but it
was bulky and took up floor-space. Other, professionally designed and
built "standing workstation" devices either replace your cubicle - not
likely encouraged by HR or site management - or must stand on the
floor (floorspace problem), or must fasten to cubicle structure (can
cause problems with non-ideal cubicle materials, design, and

I hope the above has been helpful for anyone who is aging at all, or
anyone who has suffered injuries that are aggravated by constant

DISCLAIMER: I have no connection with ErgoDesktop, Microsoft, or
FitterFirst, except as a satisfied customer (yes, even M$, in the case
of this keyboard).

Â_ Â`\ <, _
( * ) / Â Â( * )
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