Confession time: I am left-handed, and I am tired of dealing with it.
I know that it is less common than being right-handed and many people will interpret that as being “cool.” I know that Punnett-square wise, there is a 25% chance of a person being left-handed (in reality, it’s about 10 percent of the global population). I know that both of my parents are right-handed, making my case even weirder.
However, being left-handed isn’t only cool—it’s a pain. It’s one of those small inconveniences that you barely notice until it strikes you like a train at full speed. For me, my biggest nightmare was can openers. I just couldn’t use the one we had because it was made for my weaker, right hand and not for my left one.
(When discussing this article with my mom, she said that she actually emailed a kitchen supply company asking if they made left-handed can openers. They said they didn’t, but they would take the feedback to their design team.)
No place reveals more of these problems for left-handed people than school. From supplies to seating to writing, a lot of the things in schools are designed for right-handed people. Here are 6 inconveniences that many left-handed people face in schools that you may not be aware of and why they matter more than you might think.
Scissors have always been a pain for me. They have to be labeled specifically for left-handed people. Otherwise, I am sent straight into a guessing game: Will this actually cut or will it just crinkle and fold this stupid paper? Even now that I’m in college, I still carry my own pair of scissors with me, just in case my professor reveals a sudden crafting activity.
However, kindergarten was the worst part of my life when it came to this arch-nemesis of mine was. In my school, we shared all of the school supplies instead of having our own pencil cases. Worst of all, all of the supplies were designed to be as equal as possible.
Why is that a bad thing? Well, imagine there is a bucket with scissors, and you are left-handed. You know there are three left-handed scissors for the three left-handed students, but they are mixed in with the other twenty “regular” scissors. By the way, many of your fellow right-handed kindergartners will not notice if they accidentally get a left-handed pair. This means that not only do you have a limited supply of the only scissors you can use, you also can’t tell which one is which—and it can be taken by someone else before you can figure it out. Now think about all the crafting activities involved in kindergarten. Do you see the problem?
Thankfully, my mom was able to convince the teachers to tie ribbons on the left-handed scissors to indicate which ones were which. Otherwise, I am pretty sure I would’ve flunked arts and crafts.
A lot of classrooms are designed with seats right next to each other, and this doesn’t always result in the easiest of semesters. In elementary school, there was this one time when I was sitting with someone on my left. For some reason, I couldn’t figure out why their elbows always knocked into mine. This happened every day, multiple times. Were they trying to annoy me? Why wasn’t this happening to everyone else?
Turns out they weren’t trying to annoy me. They were right-handed, and they were put on my left side. This meant that, as we both wrote down notes, our elbows would be in a constant fight for territory, bumping into each other mercilessly. Honestly, they were probably wondering if I was the one wanting to annoy them. In reality, there really was no one to blame, just the seating assignment that put us there in the first place.
These Dumb Desks
These desks should just be banned. Period.
I didn’t actually know realize that they are supposed to offer support for your writing arm until somebody pointed out to me. I thought they were just a way for schools to always have a table and a chair together. What exactly was it trying to support? My pencil? My eraser?
This is less of an inconvenience and more of a “loss of quality.” It doesn’t harm me in any way, but it just sucks to know that there is a quality that I often cannot use, as I have no guarantees that a classroom will have left-handed desks.
Luckily, in my university, classes with seating assignments for tests have had thoughtful professors who ask left-handed students to send them an email about it. This ensures that, if you are in a big lecture hall with these dumb desks, you will get a left-handed one. Plus, it means you get this without going through an inner struggle: “Should I report this? I mean, I technically can take this test without them, but still…”
Again, I personally hate these desks: they are uncomfortable, impractical, and just plain dumb. However, if we are keeping them, let’s at least ensure us “lefties” can have ones designed for us.
Binders and Spiral Notebooks
Pretty much any group of pages bunched together with metal, like binders or spiral notebooks, can be a pain.
It’s not the thing that will prevent you from fulfilling an activity like scissors, but it’s one of those problems that you notice, as a left-handed person, aren’t experienced by everyone else. Have you ever spent an entire hour in lecture taking notes, only to stop and realize how the spiral metal was digging into the side of your hand this whole time? If you have, you’re probably a left-handed person.
I never liked P.E. Being left-handed didn’t help it either.
First of all, there is an issue with supplies. Anything involving gloves is a nightmare waiting to happen. Baseball season? Where is the only left-handed glove? Do they have one? Is it here? Did they lose it? FOUND IT! Oh wait, it’s three times bigger than my hand. Great.
Then, there is the whole kicking issue. You are left-handed, but does this mean you are a “left-handed kicker”? Do you kick with your right leg or your left one? Which one is your strongest one? Is there such a thing as a stronger leg? Why is this so hard?
To all my left-handed-but-kicks-with-right people who fumbled for years to figure it out, I see you. Look at the bright side: at least gym class doesn’t last forever.
Plain Old Writing
Did you know that most people don’t end up with the side of their hands smudged with ink at the end of the school day? I didn’t until this year!
Let me explain: the way that we write (at least in Western tradition) is from left to right. This means that, when you are a right-handed person, your writing hand is always facing away from the ink, touching the blank side of the paper. However, if you are left-handed, your writing hand is always pressing against the recently-written-down ink.
This, of course, results in the side of your left hand being painted in whatever ink color you just used. Sometimes it’s at least a cool color like red or blue, but, most of the time, it’s your good, old graphite grey. Oh, and half of whatever you just wrote is smudged, by the way.
Look, I get it that none of these are “major” problems. Left-handed people aren’t prevented from getting their education because of them. They are minor setbacks or inconveniences. However, just because they are small doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
I am lucky that my mom was my biggest ally: although she is right-handed, she still helps me shop for left-handed scissors and electric can openers. I am thankful that I live in a time and place where I don’t suffer discrimination for being left-handed (although, historically, that hasn’t always been the case.) I am glad that, although it is rare, it still affects a high percentage of the population, so the problems that may come with it are more frequently addressed.
However, if left-handed people still have minor disadvantages in the classroom despite all of that, what about other aspects that could affect students? Every student’s need is different, whether that is a learning style, a physical accommodation, or something else entirely. If we aren’t paying attention to things as simple as school supplies, are we really paying attention to everything else?
Classrooms should be accessible to every student, regardless of what needs need to be met. Let’s stop pointing at how cool it is for people to be left-handed. Yes, it’s cool, but let’s act on it: by making sure that all students have their needs met and the education they deserve—even if it’s something as small as a pair of scissors.