It's Not a Disability

by Rosemary West

Some of the most disturbing e-mail I receive is from the right-handed parents of left-handed children, who are sincerely worried about their children's hand use. Many of these parents express concern that their children will "suffer" and "struggle", and that they will be unable to do schoolwork. Some are actually afraid that normal left-handed behaviors, such as mirror-image writing, using the "hook" position for writing, hand-switching, or partial ambidextrousness, may be signs of a neurological disorder!

Interestingly, I never hear this sort of concern from the left-handed parents of left-handed children. They know better.

Being left-handed is normal! Really. Lefties are simply a minority, as are natural blondes, guys over six feet tall, and people whose wisdom teeth come in without complications.

Are we sometimes singled out for stereotyping or teasing by ignorant folks? Yes. So are red-heads, who are suspected of having bad tempers. So are very tall men, who are assumed to be basketball players. So is anyone whose name can be made to rhyme with a schoolyard insult. So what?

Yes, we do sometimes run into obstacles in the form of tools that are very specifically designed for right-handed use. But most of the objects that we use in our everyday lives are free of prejudice. Pencils, hammers, screwdrivers, drinking glasses, matches, staplers, light switches, footballs, and a million other everyday objects work equally well when used with either hand. And when faced with a tool designed very specifically for right-handed use, most of us can adapt. Consider the automobile. In a country where people drive on the right side of the road, both left-handed and right-handed drivers sit on the left side of the car and learn to shift gears with the right hand. In a country where people drive on the left side of the road, both left-handed and right-handed drivers sit on the right side of the car and learn to shift gears with the left hand. It's not a problem!

Certainly, we need more left-handed desks in schools, to provide proper support for our writing arms. And computer hardware and software manufacturers should do a better job of providing support for left-handed mouse use. Undoubtedly, there are some power tools, sports equipment, and other items that would be easier to use if the makers had more lefty awareness. But in all these cases, the obstacles are artificially imposed by other people. There are no obstacles to left-handedness in nature. A young left-handed child who is not subjected to harrassment is just as happy, active, and skillful as a right-handed child the same age. As adults, most of us don't spend much time thinking about our handedness. We just do what we do, the way nature intended.

© 2005 Rosemary K. West