One-Handed Workarounds -- The Programmers Guide to Typing With a Broken Thumb

By Juliet Kemp (Send Email)
Posted May 10, 2010


This week's column has been written a little more slowly than normal because on Wednesday, I tripped over the dog and broke my left thumb. Under strict instructions to keep it elevated, and concerned not to put too much strain on the remaining good hand, I went looking for resources for one-handed keyboard operation. Here are a few useful links in case you are ever in the same position!

Tip of the Trade: The value of an opposable thumb is more keenly felt when it can't be used. Fortunately, for programmers who can't leave their keyboards, there are tools to mitigate the problem. Here are two websites to check out should you find yourself in this predicament.

  • A suggested setup for one-handed QWERTY typing. This site has a huge amount of information about one-handed typing. It's really aimed at people who have permanently lost the use of one hand (it's unlikely to be worth retraining if your situation is only temporary). However, I found the suggestions about where to put the keyboard very useful.
  • As a Vim user, I'd never before realized quite how far out of the way the Esc key is, and how far ":" is from "w". Here are some suggested remappings. I set up:
    inoremap jj <Esc>
    inoremap jj <Esc>
    nmap hj :w<CR>
    imap hj <C-o>:w<CR>
    nmap wq :wq<CR>
  • For Mac users, Text Expander allows you to record snippets of text to correspond with particular abbreviations. Unfortunately, it's not pen source. Groups of snippets can apply to all applications, or only to specified apps. I set up a snippet for basically anything I've typed more than once. It's great for HTML! You can of course do this independently in Vim, but it's useful to have something that operates across all apps.

If anyone else has further suggestions, they'd be gratefully received!

Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of "Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" (Apress, 2009).

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