By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall
When you experience life from a wheelchair, it often seems like things are literally just out of reach. It never fails that the item I need from the grocery store is on the top shelf or the pan I need for cooking is in the cabinet at my feet. Yet, there is one place where the things I need a neither too low nor to high – my office at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, which I call my “workplace oasis”.
It wasn’t always this way. When I first joined the MDRC staff, my office was essentially a storage place with a conference room table as a desk. During the first few weeks of my employment, I was hunched over the table to reach my keyboard and my things we constantly falling on the floor because I could only reach the parts of the desk that were within arms reach. Luckily, my employer understands the role that workplace ergonomics and assistive technology plays in productivity, and we worked quickly to find a better solution.
I received a workplace assessment through Michigan Rehabilitation Services. We went through all the functions of my position, discussed what I was having trouble with, and tried a few devices to see what would work best. Using the assessment recommendations, we purchased a power adjustable height desk with a curved desktop at 120 degrees. It allows me to raise and lower the desk with the push of a button. I find that it helps to change the height of my desktop throughout the day to prevent pain. The curvature of the desktop enables me to reach things on the entire surface of the desk, not just what is right in front on me My monitor is also on a mount that allows me to adjust it’s height.
I didn’t even realize until after the assessment that using a trackball mouse could be helpful. It allows me to navigate on the screen using my whole hand, and the buttons are programmable, enabling me to click with the fingers that are most agile. The ring around the trackball lets me scroll more easily, and overall the mouse eliminates many of the problems that I have with fine motor skills.
Working in the area of assistive technology, I tend to use a lot of devices, which means I need a lot of outlets and USB ports. I also can’t reach any of the lamp switches in my office, so we put them all on one power strip which is mounted to the side of my desk. This way, I can turn all the lights on and off with the flip of one switch. What’s more, the mounted power strip has USB ports for charging devices and plugging in other input devices like a headset or speakers. There are a lot of cords around my desk, but the power strip system I use tends to keep it in a state of controlled chaos.
Finally, I use a DAS Keyboard, a mechanical keyboard that provides auditory (clacking) and tactile feedback when the keys are pressed. This type of keyboard works well for me because I can hear and feel when I make a mistake.
In a world where things often seem too high or too low, I am fortunate to have a place where things are just right. My “workplace oasis” isn’t perfect. The space around me is still used for storage (that’s what happens when you have the biggest office), but when I’m at my desk with all my tools at my fingertips, I feel the most comfortable and productive.
Have you used assistive technology to create a special space? Let us know!