Posts Tagged ‘keyboard layout’

Start the Revolution Without Me

Thursday, October 15th, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

A somewhat radical member of the Yahoo! altkeyboards group recently posted a link to this article: Congress to pressure Obama to force mandatory switch to Dvorak. Speaking as a long-time Dvorak advocate, I oppose any such mandate!

Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

For those who don’t know, “Dvorak” refers to a simplified keyboard layout proposed in the 1930’s by Dr. August Dvorak and his colleagues. It requires far less finger motion to type on the Dvorak layout than on the usual QWERTY pattern.

I have used the Dvorak layout for many years, after switching from QWERTY, and I can attest to Dvorak’s comfort and efficiency. I am confident a national switch to Dvorak would save our citizens a great deal of wasted time, money, and pain.

But trying to force a mandatory switch will doom the effort, and possibly make things harder for those who want to use Dvorak. If the government needs to be involved at all, it should concentrate on making sure the Dvorak option is always available, not on mandating its use.

All modern computers include the Dvorak keyboard layout as a preference or control panel option (along with national language settings). But a few schools and businesses block access to this setting. It would be beneficial for government to mandate access to the setting for anyone who wants to use it. This would remove the most valid objection to teaching Dvorak to students: that they might someday be forced to use QWERTY anyway.

It also makes sense to require educators to at least introduce the Dvorak option to typing students. If they know Dvorak will always be available, children and new typists can choose to learn Dvorak from the start, and never suffer QWERTY’s inefficiency.

But we must never suggest forcing QWERTY typists to switch! People who are already fast QWERTY typists might do better in Dvorak, and often do, but the decision to switch must always be voluntary.

Switching is not always easy. A Navy study in 1941 showed the cost of retraining could be recouped in ten days (after training ended). But the Navy had the luxury of assigning the study’s subjects to non-typing duties while they switched. Indeed, for best results it is important to avoid or at least minimize typing work outside of actual training sessions, and to not use QWERTY at all until the Dvorak pattern is fully learned.

People who make their living at a keyboard might not be able to afford losing even two or three weeks of work. If the change were a mandate, switchers would be more likely to try rushing the process, risking failures that in turn would be blamed on the layout, and not on poor training.

Also consider that an attempt to mandate switching will be countered with citations of the 1950’s GSA study that advised against switching. I am certain that study was flawed at best, probably biased, but many people will choose to believe it anyway.

Fortunately, the GSA recommendation was against switching. It is a real stretch to claim it applies to new typists who haven’t already learned QWERTY. Certainly the study does not argue against assuring equal access to either layout in all work and school environments. Legislation to provide that should be enough to encourage voluntary adoption by new typists.

Only the most unreasonable Dvorak opponents would argue against assuring freedom of access to this built-in, no-cost computer resource, by anyone who wants to use it.