Windows 10 is awful for the left-handed

James Daykin
Dec 26, 2018 · 4 min read

I’m left-handed, and although I do many things with my left hand; writing, shaving, carrying bags, holding a remote and brushing my teeth, there are many things I’ve been forced to do right-handed; holding scissors, playing musical instruments and using a computer mouse/keyboard for example. By the way, I’m fully aware that, in a world of malaria, HIV/AIDS and climate change, bemoaning the way lefties are “treated” could be seen as time and effort that might be better spent elsewhere, however around 10% of the global population are left-handed. That’s >700 million people.

There are many great tools and guides out there to help designers, developers and project managers increase usability and accessibility on websites and within software for those with colour-blindness or dyslexia, and rightly so (shout out to these awesome resources):

Disability is a spectrum, not binary — Steve Barnett and Nicola du Toit

Vox Media Accessibility Guidelines

W3C Accessibility

However, 700 million is a huge number, and being left-handed is a very physical constraint when interacting with an inaccessible system that doesn’t cater to the user’s requirements properly. I recently decided to switch to using a mouse with my left hand. Partly because I thought it would be interesting, and partly as a protest to the way I’ve been gently herded into performing about 50% of daily tasks the way my genes have decided definitely isn’t natural. I switched my Logitech G502 mouse for my old SteelSeries Sensei Raw, an ambidextrous mouse (which let me tell you after a brief visit to Amazon, are surprisingly uncommon).

Next, I switched my primary mouse buttons through Windows 10 Settings (Settings > Devices > Mouse then change “Select your primary button” from Left to Right). Easy enough, but then I realised that I had two problems, first my impossible-to-live-without back and forward buttons (mouse 4 and mouse 5) couldn’t be switched in Windows, and the mouse pointer was the default “facing top-left” arrowhead.

Firstly, you cannot swap the fourth and fifth mouse buttons by default in Windows. Unless of course, I’m missing a menu somewhere, but then that’s another issue entirely. This is what the basic mouse options page looks like:

And the “additional mouse options” page isn’t any more helpful. In fact, it looks just like a slightly older version of the basic mouse options screen:

In either place, there is nowhere to reflect the side buttons on the mouse from the left side to the right, which means either reaching across with your pinky/ring finger every time you want to back or forward on a web browser, or downloading external software. Thankfully, I had already got SteelSeries Engine 3 installed from when I last used the mouse. This gave me the option to switch the mouse buttons around by clicking on my device and saving the new button configuration to the default mouse settings. From there I could also have the SteelSeries software overwrite my default Windows settings, keeping the buttons this way from then on. However, this (I assume) only works if I have the software launch on Windows startup which is hardly ideal, especially given how it’s “gaming” software (eww) and isn’t exactly light.

The bigger issue however, is that I’m not sure if such options are available to those who don’t own a SteelSeries mouse, and after some quick Googling, I saw a few frustrated forum posters wondering what their options are with regards to flipping their buttons but no solution.

The issue of inverting the pointer, I’m yet to solve. There a few guides out there for changing your cursor, however there is no option just to flip the cursor through Windows. You have to find (or make) an inverted cursor icon and tell Windows to use that instead.

The whole process was a complete pain in the proverbial, and I’m someone who knows about this stuff. Imagine a technophobe or casual, older PC user in the same predicament, and why isn’t the question asked from the get-go when you set up Windows in the first place? an “Are you left or right-handed? (this is used to determine your default mouse settings)” wouldn’t go amiss.

Funnily enough, I’ve never read or heard of anyone being left-handed and struggling to use a computer, which, without trying to make this article seem unironically satirical, is understandable given how lefties tend to grow up forced into a “righties” world, but usability and accessibility is about the giving the largest percentage of the population possible the opportunity to use a system easily, efficiently and satisfactorily. Without presenting solutions to the above, Microsoft makes using a PC a frustrating, clunky experience that may turn a huge chunk of the population away from their products.

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