Zooming in on onscreen problems

Relationship between computer user’s vision, size of what’s on that person’s screen
Monday, April 2, 2012
By Pamela Young

There may once have been a perception that ergonomic problems in the office could be resolved if everyone sat in ergonomically designed chairs, knew how to adjust them properly and made use of well-designed keyboard trays and other ergonomic accessories.

But a U.S. National Ergonomics Conference and Exposition webinar presented earlier this year highlighted another source of trouble that has long been overlooked: the relationship between a computer user’s vision and the position and size of what’s on that person’s screen.

Cynthia Roe Purvis, director of the ergonomics research and development program at Hewlett Packard, cites studies indicating that between 30 and 60 per cent of computer users report pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder and upper back, and that more than half experience discomforts such as eye strain, dry eyes, eye irritation and blurred vision.

Studies indicate this happens in part because so many computer users assume the “turtle” position: head craned forward at an angle that causes strain on the body. Two of the major causes of the turtling phenomenon are improper monitor positioning and eyestrain caused by not zooming in sufficiently on the type on the screen.

The monitor positioning problem is complex – the ‘right’ position for any individual depends on their eyesight (wearers of progressive lenses, for example, need to see the screen at a lower angle than others do), posture and the task at hand. Basically, what is needed are monitor arms that provide the greatest possible range of positions.

Research also suggests most people don’t zoom in enough when reading text on a computer screen. For that there’s often a simple remedy: In many applications, holding down the “Ctrl” key and rolling the scroll wheel on a computer mouse can adjust the zoom setting.

Pamela Young is editor-in-chief of Canadian Facility Management & Design magazine.

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