When most people are right-handed, it can be easy to forget that 12% of the population prefers to use the other hand for common daily tasks. Some of them can be pretty straightforward but some can be a pain…at times, literally.
Upadhyaya: I have lived in my parents’ house in India all my life. It wasn’t until I was adult that I learned a very important detail about my father. And when I did, I wondered how I went my entire life without knowing that..he’s left-handed. A part of me felt a bit stupid that there was an entire community right under my nose that I never gave much thought to. So, I started reading more about left-handedness. And in this process, I came across Roddy Camper Jr. He has a unique way of introducing himself. Every time he meets a leftie, he congratulates them and hands them a business card that labels him a left-handed rights activist. Can’t even say that term without using the word right. Having felt like an outcast in his formative years, helping the lefty community is now his biggest passion.
Roddy: It started out when I was about eight. I had trouble starting a mower. My father used to pick on me because I couldn’t get the mower started in the first pull. And he said oh, these things are designed to start on the first pull. Why can’t you do it? I didn’t realize they’re wound for right hand only.
Upadhyaya: If only it was just a mower. Try opening a measuring tape with your left hand, the numbers are upside down. Writing on a whiteboard can be a task as the hand smudges what was just written. The camera buttons are always on the right. And don’t even get me started on trying to adapt a crochet pattern for the other hand. Roddy tried to address one such issue about 20 years ago. Back then, Roddy and his buddies used gaming flight sticks for flying programs such as Fighter Ace. They loved it as it allowed them to recreate WW2 flying events. He realized that using flight sticks was harder for left handers as they had to cross their hands to use the speed and other functions at the base of the stick. Plus, the sticks were molded for where righty fingers and he would have to hold it uncomfortably throughout the tournament. So, he decided to approach Microsoft with his grievance.
Roddy: When I sent a letter to Bill Gates and said, “Hey, we need some left-handed flight sticks,” he said, “Sorry, they’re not cost-effective.” Bill, you’re left-handed. Didn’t matter. Wasn’t cost-effective. He was thinking too much of the mighty dollar.
Upadhyaya: Now, this may just seem like a minor inconvenience. But the issue of not having the right kind of products is a serious one. A report published by Dr. Stanley Coren in the American Journal of Public Health in 1989 notes that left-handers have increased risk of accident-related injuries as they must either work with their less proficient right hand, or adopt awkward body postures to work with some tools and machines.
Roddy is perhaps one of the very few from the lefty community to think of sending out such emails. The rest vocalize their frustrations in Facebook groups or online forums. One Reddit user complained about not being able to play baseball in school because they only had right-handed gloves. One cut his hand using a righty can opener and another complained about not being able to find a cheap lefty bow for archery. Some even complained about hot casings hitting them in the face or the collarbone when they try to shoot a gun with the left. This is something else Roddy has tried to address…
Roddy: When I confronted a gun manufacturer about getting converted over for a left-handed throw, it was going to cost me $300 more to get that gun. How many times have left-handers had to pay a higher price for a left-handed product? So, who should we bill the difference to? God?
Upadhyaya: Well, if only God could answer. People have been persecuted throughout history for simply using the wrong hand. Left-handedness is likened to evil in several cultures across the world. Up until the 1970s, teachers in catholic schools used to beat students with a ruler or tie their hands behind their backs in order to “correct” them. In India, kids were forced to eat and write with their right as using the left hand is considered impure. In fact, the word sinister comes from the Latin word Sinistram, which means favoring the left. And while left-handedness is considered normal now, there still isn’t much being done to make things more adaptable for them.
Roddy: How do I get to more people if the government doesn’t want me doing anything? I’ve looked at maybe getting some grants where I can go to more schools. But I don’t think Biden is left-handed. So doesn’t really help as much. I had my shot with Obama…
Upadhyaya: Who was included in Time Magazine’s Top 10 Lefties list.
Roddy: …and I didn’t really want to talk to the other one because I knew he’s about money. So I only affect the little world that’s around me.
Upadhyaya: And Roddy’s efforts have had some results. He got one school in his locality to change from all right-handed desks and also convinced several teachers and principals to acknowledge left-handed children from the get go and keep some products for them. Making deliberate efforts towards facilitating for user-friendly equipment and items is a recommendation made in studies from countries including Australia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Singapore.
Mark: Generally, the education system, in my view, has gone from repressive where left-handers were being forced to be right-handed in to being passive.
Upadhyaya: This is Mark Stewart. His son is left-handed.
Mark: Now what I’m trying to do is be more active because there are such small things you can do that can make such a positive difference.
Upadhyaya: These being providing the right tools and handwriting training. Mark and his wife Heather own a shop called Left N Write — that is W-R-I-T-E — in Worcester, UK. After having to look high and low for a pair of scissors for their son, the couple decided to open their own shop for parents in their locality.
Heather: The thing that’s upsetting for us is that it doesn’t take very long to show a child. And a lot of children, if they’re the right sort of age, and they’re willing, they get on well straight away quite often and with a little bit of practice, they’re off. It’s upsetting that this isn’t given any thought to in schools.
Upadhyaya: Mark said that children struggling in school have felt insecure because they can’t write well or the teacher has been harsh. At his urging, I tried writing with my non-dominant hand. It took me a long time just to figure out how hold a pen correctly, let alone make my squiggles look like letters. That realization made me uncomfortable. And so, I can only imagine how a child would feel. Nobody wants to feel like a failure. And these childhood memories can carry well on into adulthood.
Mark: About two years ago, a lady came in and she must be late 60s, early 70s. And she said I’m looking for a left-handed pen.
Upadhyaya: Like he does with kids who come in, he observed her handwriting technique and offered some advice.
Mark: And she came back the week and I thought what have I done wrong? She came and she said, when I left your shop, I was quite happy. But when I got home, I was upset because I realized nobody in all my life had given me help like that and how that help, when she was a child, might have changed her life.
Upadhyaya: This lady could be anyone we know. Being different is always hard. And when the world around doesn’t accommodate your differences, it’s easy to feel left out.
Roddy: If I can get to these left-handed kids before they go to puberty, I can help them realize that they’re not weird, they’re not clumsy, they’re not sinister. They’re not the bad guy they shouldn’t sit next to the dinner table because they’ll bump their arms. As long as they keep working on their problems, they’ll have a great place in this world afterwards.
Upadhyaya: So, on August 13th, also known as International Lefthanders Day, maybe let’s take some time out and show some appreciation for our fellow lefties. And perhaps acknowledge that everything doesn’t always need to be all right.
This story was produced for our Telling True Stories in Sound class at Columbia Journalism School.