RSI Awareness Day: The good and the bad
UK.biz needs to act rather than react
Comment RSI Action is the UK charity working to facilitate the prevention of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) conditions and for the relief of sickness, hardship, and distress among those suffering with RSI conditions.
Last weekend it ran the International RSI Awareness Day at University College London. The day was an excellent mix of lectures and an exhibition space with technology, therapy, and advice available.
I came away with a mix of good news and bad news for businesses, IT shops and IT vendors.
To put these in context I need to remind my readers what RSI is. People, including myself at times, tend to say "I am suffering from RSI", whereas it would be better to say, "I am suffering from a repetitive strain injury". RSI can cause a variety of anatomical and neurological complaints, many of which are painful, debilitating, and not easily remedied. Repetitive strain injuries are often, but not exclusively, caused by extensive use of computers and related technology.
Bad: RSI is on the increase. The number of people using computers, mobile phones and games consoles for work or pleasure is rising, and includes children and young adults. The design of these devices and the way they are used is repetitive and can cause strain. The increase of RSI among the young is particularly worrying as it suggests that an explosion of cases is highly probable.
Good: Many sufferers reported that they have recovered from RSI and are now leading normal lives.
Bad: The recovery process is long and requires a lot of help. Going through multiple phases of repair, often through intensive physiotherapy and massage, then phased re-entry concentrating on posture and how technology can be used, and finally maintenance when any remaining symptoms are kept under control. Even at the end of this process people are likely to remain susceptible and have to continue to be vigilant while being able to carry on normal life.
Good: There are centres of excellence in the US and India that specialise in RSI treatment.
Bad: There is no similar centre in the UK at the moment, although there are a number of NHS and private practitioners who are knowledgeable. Obviously, US and India are expensive in time and money and are not an option for all sufferers.
Good: There are discussions in progress at the moment to create a centre of excellence in Europe (probably in the UK).
Bad: Although aspects of design that contribute to RSI are known, and can be resolved, manufacturers are still delivering them as standard. One example is the position of the numeric pad to the right of most standard keyboards; this forces the user to stretch further to reach the mouse which is normally on the desk to the right of the keyboard. This may seem to be a small stretch, but as a repetitive movement it has been shown to contribute to RSI. Most users do not use the numeric pad on a regular basis, if ever, so its replacement by a laptop format would actually reduce cost and reduce the risk of RSI (a win-win situation).
Good: there are hardware and software solutions that will reduce the risk of a user incurring an RSI. They will also reduce fatigue and low level discomfort in a much wider audience and therefore increase the productivity of those not apparently impacted by RSI. Yet another example of a general theme in my research that designing for people with disabilities has benefits to the whole community.
Good: Bill Fines of AbilityNet suggested a very easy way that businesses could improve the situation. He recommends the inclusion of a "Paragraph 24b" in every request for tender. The gist of this paragraph is that: "The business does not want just to conform to the requirements of Disability Discrimination Act (or its equivalent in other countries) but wants to be an exemplar enterprise in relation to supporting clients and employees with disabilities; the vendor should explain how the solution will meet these requirements."
Bill believes, and I would concur, that if this is put in to the initial tender for any hardware or software then the price should not be significantly greater than any other solution. If you include the benefit to corporate social responsibility, the overall increase in productivity, and the reduced cost of managing the fallout from RSI, the benefit will be financially advantageous. Please contact Bill or myself if you would like us to help your company put this idea into practice.
My conclusion is that RSI is a problem that is serious and needs to be tackled and RSI Action is doing important work in this area; I am looking forward to the next conference. Between the vendors, the enterprises, government, and the individual the problem can be significantly reduced if not eliminated.
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