Touch typing, minus one finger
December 10, 2008 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm losing the use of one of my fingers. But what I'll miss most is the touch typing. How to relearn it?

In February I'll be having surgery for a benign bone tumor in my right pinky finger. Unfortunately, the tumor is close enough to the joint that my doctor says I'll lose the joint.

I'm a librarian in my day job and a novelist in my night job. I type a lot. Do you know of any resources for relearning how to touch type with one unusable finger? I know of one-handed keyboards, but it seems that, if I've still got nine fingers, it would be better to use them all.

(Super extra bonus question: if you have any experience with this kind of hand surgery, I would really appreciate hearing about pain levels and recovery time and when you were able to go back to work and anything else you think might be helpful. I'm mildly freaked out about this.)
posted by Jeanne to Technology (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why not branch out from typing and get Dragon Naturally Speaking? They just recently released a new version and it supposedly has an eerily high accuracy rate. I don't know how it would work for your job, but I imagine for home as a novelist, it would be a decent, if not great alternative.
posted by Carillon at 9:26 AM on December 10, 2008

A few months ago I tore my left pinky up pretty bad and ended up with stitches and a hard wrap, unable to bend the finger. I found that after a few hours using a keyboard without that finger (basically just holding it up) that my typing was almost the same as it had been. A little slower, but not dramatically. At first I made more mistakes, but after a day, those were almost gone as well. Now, given that this is your right hand, you will probably have to stretch a bit more often since the return key will probably get much more use than my caps lock key did. But I think you will find it relatively easy to retrain yourself to use three fingers rather than four, especially if you already touch type.
posted by chrisroberts at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2008

I use a keyboard that requires me to move my whole hand for certain keystrokes that I used to be able to do just by moving a finger. It was not hard to learn and did not require any retraining, just several weeks of practice to get up to my previous speed. You may want to just to type as you did before, but move your whole hand to the right one key before doing something you would have typed with your pinky before.

I really wouldn't worry about it. You will suffer some decrease in speed initially, but I think most adults would be able to recover most of this without specific training.
posted by grouse at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2008

You're losing q, a, z, 1, tab, caps lock, and left shift.

Simplest thing would be to re-map other keys you use less frequently, to the lost keys. You could re-map the function keys or even the number keys, and map alt-number key to be the "normal" number key.

Under MS-Windows, you can remap using registry entries, or with a little more work create your wn alternative keyboard definition. Similar things can be done for Apple or linux computers.

Less easily, you could shift your left hand one key to the left, making your left ring finger do the work your pinky does now and your left middle do the work of the ring finger. This would make your left index finger responsible for pressing what it presses now, plus what the middle finger now presses. This has the advantage of working on keyboards you have not or cannot re-map.
posted by orthogonality at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

When you say "I'll lose the joint" do you mean it will physically go away or is it just going to be fused?

I had hand surgery (for something else, Dupuytrens) and it left my left pinkie finger bent and fused at the joint. I decided to try to learn to play the guitar, and continue to play the piano, anyway and found that you can compensate with other muscles to move the finger tip where you want it to go. All I'm saying that, if your joint is just fused, with a little therapy, you might surprise yourself with just how well you can compensate.
posted by lpsguy at 9:47 AM on December 10, 2008

Right pinky finger, orthogonality. I now realize this means you won't be able to press enter as easily. You may want to consider switching to a keyboard that has the enter key somewhere more sensible. The Kinesis Advantage, which I use, has the enter key under one of the thumbs. Of course, it's very different and would require some retraining even if you had ten fingers.
posted by grouse at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2008

If you have insurance coverage, have your primary doctor give you a referral to physical therapist who specializes in these issues.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2008

I, too, lost the use of my pinkie finger (and the ring finger, too, actually), though mine was only for several months. This was during my last months of college, while I was finishing several research papers, doing entirely too much programming, and the like. It took me all of two hours to become comfortable enough touch typing with only three fingers on one hand to not really notice the difference. And there's a decent chance you're a better typist than I to start with anyway.

There are other areas of life where this could become a significant change, but typing and computer use really isn't one of them. (The effect on grip strength, for example, can be surprising).

Definitely talk to your doctor about seeing an occupational therapist, though. This is what they are for.
posted by oostevo at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2008

If you end up going chrisroberts' route and just type using one less finger, remapping the Caps Lock key to be the Enter key using a program like KeyTweak seems like it would help. You could do the same with the Backspace key and the tilde (~) key.
posted by hootch at 10:09 AM on December 10, 2008

Should have waited a bit more before posting. Going through a therapist does a few things for you. First, they will know exactly what your options are in terms of adaptive keyboards, software, or even alternative typing techniques. Second, if you do need workplace accommodations, a recommendation from your PT or doctor will carry much, much, more weight than metafilter.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:10 AM on December 10, 2008

It seems to me, the simplest solution would be to get a little prosthetic pinkie tip. Measure before surgery to make sure the prosthesis is the right length. Once you're all healed up, go to town as normal.

I want to say I read a news story somewhere about a guy who had fingertip prosthetics, but I'll be darned if I can remember where/when. Those with better google-fu than mine might be able to help on that one.

If you opted to craft it yourself, I would try lopping the pinky off of a pair of kitchen utility gloves, and packing(gluing?) some padding into the tip. No idea if it would work, but it seems like it might.

Best of luck!
posted by specialnobodie at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2008

I've noticed that even with 10 fingers, I don't use the right pinky for it's proper touch typing use. My hand just shifts over to use those keys with the ring finger. Just start typing, I think your brain will adapt quickly.
posted by hwyengr at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2008

my grandfather was a professional jazz pianist and he lost his ring finger on his left hand. Like several others who have already commented, he said that he learned to just shift his hand a bit when he needed to. He found that after some adjustment time, he really didn't miss it much.

My mother has rheumatoid arthritis and can use only her first two fingers on each hand. She still types quickly also. it a question of getting used to the new configuration of your hands.

So, I throw in my vote for giving it a bit of time and you will find that you adjust.
posted by midwestguy at 11:15 AM on December 10, 2008

I have had limited use of my right pinky finger for my entire life. I learned to type on my own (with the use of software), and without really thinking about it or planning it out, I worked out the following system:

Keys typed with right pinky finger:
. > , < / ?

Keys typed with right ring finger:
enter ; : ' " [ { ] } - _ = +

Keys typed with right middle finger:
9 ( 0 ) backspace \

I use the left shift key in favor of the right for the most part. I have a few oddball tricks such as the : in c:\, which I type by putting my middle and ring fingers on the right shift key and pressing the : with my right index finger, then hitting the \ with my right middle finger as usual. Why I do this, I have no idea, but it seems to work fine for me.

I do all of this on a standard keyboard; the kind where the enter key is to the right of the ' key and only takes up one row on the keyboard. I type well over 100 wpm on this keyboard in tests, although I have had a lot of time to practice.

To see what it is like, I typed this response out without using my right pinky at all. It seems the most natural to me to use my right ring finger for the , . and / keys, but this could be because I am already used to using that finger for many unusual keys. You might find it more natural to use the middle finger for , and/or ., or some other combination.

I would recommend that you use some "learn to type" software but disregard its instructions (of course) on which fingers to use for which keys. The practice exercises and feedback (on speed and accuracy) should help you feel out which fingers are best on which keys for you and your keyboard over time. I used Mavis Beacon when I was learning to type, but I don't know if they still make it. There are also websites like Typeracer, but the text blurbs on there are quite short and probably wouldn't be as helpful.

I wish you the best of luck and I hope (and expect) that you'll be back to full-speed typing quickly!
posted by Juffo-Wup at 11:37 AM on December 10, 2008

Do make an effort to continue using both sets of modifier keys (shift, control, alt). I do not recommend using the left shift key combined with other keys typed with your left hand. This can lead to or exacerbate repetitive strain injuries. Yes, a lot of people do it without trouble, but it's a bad habit to get into.
posted by grouse at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2008

I think this seems like it will be a bigger inconvenience than it actually will be. Because of a birth defect, I have only one usable digit on my left hand (the pinkie, it turns out). When I started using computers, my teachers were always trying to delegate certain keys to each finger. I even remember memorizing the proper placement of one's hands on a keyboard for a typing quiz, even though this information was irrelevant to me. I have no idea which fingers I use for which keys, and I wouldn't be surprised if isn't always consistent. However, as far as I can tell, my typing is up to par with that of most college students. Granted, I have been typing this way my whole life, but I think it shows that you make do with what you have. I imagine you'll find it annoying for a while, but after some time, you will forget that you ever typed differently.

Good luck!
posted by null14 at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2008

Getting a special keyboard, or remapping the keys on your existing keyboard, will just get you used to adaptations that you won't have access to when you're not using your own computer.

Just trying to adapt may end up being more practical in the long run.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:00 PM on December 10, 2008

Librarian here too.

I lost the use of my index finger recently after smashing the tip of it - ended up with mallet finger, and when the splint came off, it was still bent - and with no feeling. it's pretty much useless. What I found out, however, is that my other fingers automatically make up for the finger by taking over. I know, it's odd.
posted by bradth27 at 9:18 PM on December 10, 2008

I'm not a touch typist, but rather a weird hybrid touch/hunt and peckist. I can type over 60wpm and I only use my left index finger, middle finger and pinky, and my right thumb, index, middle and pinky(sometimes for the return key, but sometimes not). What I've noticed about my style, such as it is, is that I just "know" where the keys are when typing, and will sometimes substitute another digit to press a key if I've moved my hand a certain way. There's no conscious thinking about it, it just "happens". Also, I use those old monster IBM Clicktronic keyboards at home and at the office, so I'm used to a single keyboard size of MASSIVE.

Whenever I use a different keyboard, like on a laptop or someone else's computer, there is some adjsutment I need to do, but again it is almost an unconscious thing. I don't actually think "OK, now I have a different keyboard, I have to do this differently", I just go. I make some mistakes, I erase them, then go some more, make some more mistakes, and soon enough, a few minutes into it and I'm doing just fine. I suspect that after you lose use of your digit, there might be some annoyance at first, but you will compensate for it unconsciously very quickly. You know where the keys are spatially, and the autonomic part of your brain will do its best to make sure that key gets pressed by whatever means necessary.

I think in your case that doing something like trying to remap a keyboard is counterproductive, because then you will either need to have two different typing styles in your head (for your computer and everyone else's) or you will have to be able to remap any computer keyboard you want to use.
posted by barc0001 at 1:16 AM on December 11, 2008

I really appreciate all the feedback so far. Based on the consensus, this might just be a case of me fixating on one small thing I can handle worrying about instead of the large things I can't!

I didn't realize that occupational therapy would even be an option (I do have pretty decent insurance) - it's helpful to know that I'll have that to fall back on if necessary, and it's good to know that it IS something that people can adapt to fairly quickly.
posted by Jeanne at 8:46 AM on December 11, 2008

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