Touch Typing: One Way MS Has Affected My Hands
I used to type pretty fast. Growing up, I remember taking computer classes that (among other things) focused a lot on the proper way to type. Each of your 8 fingers and 2 thumbs were supposed to rest on specific keys and were responsible for reaching out to hit others on the row above and below. Eventually, with enough practice, I was able to type out an entire sentence without looking down at the keyboard! This is called touch typing, and people who have mastered this technique can type out an entire essay without ever looking down at the keyboard and instead looking up at the screen. This is essential to practicing the best ergonomic posture when using a computer so that the user does not experience a lot of the strains and pains you might associate with spending too much time online.
typing without looking at the keyboard
I never really mastered touch typing though because I didn’t like the form of each finger being responsible for specific keys. It just didn’t feel “natural” to me. I had my own way of typing and could almost double my typing speed (measured in WPM, words per minute) by using “my own form,” but one thing that remained the same was my ability to type without looking down at the keyboard.
That has drastically changed
Since the time I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), that has drastically changed. First, I slowly stopped using certain fingers to type because it was getting harder to coordinate them. My pinky fingers were the first to retire as they would reach out to hit a key but end up missing. I guess this might be more of an issue with proprioception, like when the doctor asks you to close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with each index finger? It’s like my brain would think that my pinky was in one place but it was actually in another, causing me to hit the wrong key. Eventually, it seemed to progress from my pinkies inward until I was mostly using my middle and pointer fingers as well as my thumbs to do the bulk of my typing. I could still type with my other fingers if I looked down at the keyboard, so I could actually see where they were and where I wanted them to go, but I was trying to maintain my ability to type while looking at the computer screen.
Losing that ability altogether
But eventually I lost that ability, too; I could not type even a single word without looking down at the keyboard, because now? If I stare at the screen while trying to type, I just can’t tell where my fingers actually are! Looking down at the keyboard may not seem like a big deal, but your head is really heavy and keeping it faced down towards your keyboard puts a lot of strain on your neck (ouch) and can even lead to upper back pain, both of which I was experiencing. I eventually figured out how to better position my keyboard and monitor to help prevent some of this pain but it took a lot of trial and error, and it was extra frustrating because all I could think was, “this is all because of my MS.”
When your body doesn't listen
It didn’t stop there either; now, it’s getting to the point where sometimes looking down at the keyboard is not even enough to keep me typing error-free. Sometimes it feels like I am just randomly mashing keys with fingers that won’t position themselves how I want, or that randomly spasm causing me to hit a bunch of keys all at once. Sometimes it feels like my fingers are literally tripping over themselves. As far as proprioception, there are times where I can be staring directly at a finger and where I want it to go, but even still, it ends up hitting the wrong key. It’s so frustrating to look at part of your own body while trying to send a signal to it to do something and watch it not listen. It’s also annoying to have to hit “backspace” so often! That key is going to wear out and stop working first, I just know it!
Trying different solutions
I have, of course, tried various speech-to-text solutions, and while there were a few times in my life with MS that this was a godsend that allowed me to operate my computer and write down my thoughts, I just don’t like it. I feel like there is just something different about “thinking of a sentence and speaking it” and “thinking of a sentence and typing it. Epecially when my MS can cause me to slur my speech or trip over my words because sometimes the computer will have no idea what I am saying. So, I am doing everything I can to maintain my ability to type, even though I am now not even half as fast, make a million errors, and have to look down at the keyboard which often leads to neck pain.
Hopeful for future accessibility options
I wish there were better accessibility options for people with MS and similar disabilities who have trouble typing but I have searched high and low and haven’t found anything that useful. I have been playing with several customizable keyboards that are back-lit (each key lights up) and have customizable keys that I can replace with textured keys to maybe help me feel them better, but nothing really seems to totally do the trick. I just can’t wait till I can send my thoughts directly to my computer that writes them out in real-time so I can just stop using a keyboard altogether, but I think I’ll have to wait a while for that one. For now, it seems I’ll have to continue focusing on ways to work around my MS so that I can continue to type.
On an average day, how would you rate your level of anxiety related to multiple sclerosis?