By Daniel J. Vance
In 1966 when Lilly Walters Schermerhorn was only 10, her dad rented a forklift to move hay meant for horses. One day, the forklift accidentally flipped over onto her.
"I lost the top of my thumb and pinky, and then gangrene set in and doctors had to take more of my hand," she said over the telephone from her business office in Claremont, Calif. "My mother was distressed. While I was in the hospital she called IBM and explained that her daughter had lost her hand and couldn't type anymore. Was there anything they could do?"
IBM sent a "one-handed" typing manual. The rest is history.
"In junior high my mom asked the principal to put me in typing class," she said. At first the principal said no, but a teacher persuaded him otherwise. "Not only did I not slow the class down, but I was second fastest, typing 40 w.p.m."
Fast-forward 30 years now to 1998 when Lilly is running an international speaker's bureau founded by her mother. Two friends ask her to gather warm stories for a new book series called "Chicken Soup for the Soul." One story she submits is about how she had learned to type and later also taught one-handed typing to her polio-affected English teacher.
"Then the (Chicken Soup) book went off the charts and I was getting calls daily from parents whose children had lost hands," she said. In short, Lilly soon wrote a 66-page manual to teach people one-handed typing on a "regular" keyboard.
She said, "But [occupational therapists] are pushing one-handed [adaptive] keyboards on children that have lost a hand. These keyboards can cost up to $800. And once you get one, you are then a 10-year-old child that must carry around this special keyboard everywhere you go. To use it you have to take it with you to the library, friends' homes, school, and to wherever else there are computers. People with two hands think they are doing these kids a favor by having them use an adaptive keyboard. But those children want to compete with their peers on their level and have one less reason to feel disabled (and awkwardly stand out)."
She said one-handed typists can type just as fast on a regular keyboard. She personally types up to 80 w.p.m.
"This is one place where adaptive technology isn't needed," she stressed.