January 18, 1999
Robert F. Chase, President
National Education Association
1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Chase,
I am contacting you to determine the position that the NEA takes on computer ergonomic training in the classroom, and how this training - or lack of training - impacts the life-long habits of computer use that children in our schools are gaining at an earlier and earlier age.
Ergonomics is the study of man and machine. Computer ergonomics is the study of man and computers. The reason it is important is that using proper techniques at the computer can prevent crippling repetitive stress injuries which occur over time. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the watchdog for adults in the work place. Since this is a serious issue, OSHA is currently working to gather additional information and republish its national ergonomic standard. California has passed ergonomic legislation to protect those who perform their work on computers. Who is looking out for the children of America while they are gaining their computer skills in school?
Computers were identified as a learning tool back in the 1980s. It is just in recent years that the price of computers and the Internet have come together to renew the push to utilize this fantastic tool for the purposes of educating our children. The children are using this tool to gain access to an incredible variety and volume of information, but are they also forming poor computing habits that they will take into adulthood with them? When we talk about computer ergonomics, we often think about carpal tunnel syndrome, which is the repetitive stress injury receiving the most publicity from the press. In fact, repetitive stress affects all parts of your body, not just the wrist. What is being done to educate our children on the proper use of computers?
There are two factors that came together and caused me to write this letter to you. First, my company is interested in computer ergonomics and has created a computer ergonomic CBT (computer based training) program targeted at corporations. Second, I recently visited my daughter's 9th grade classroom to watch her do a presentation on a research topic. I observed that the computer in the classroom was located on a small desk with the young woman using it seated in a chair designed for a first grader. She was twisted in the chair, reaching up for the mouse, and without a doubt, using her body in such a way as to cause harm over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this type of posture is the rule, not the exception.
If this is a serious problem for adult computer users, then what about our children who are using computers more and more at school and at home? They are often using furniture that was not designed for computer use, and in most cases, it is not adjustable to fit their individual body size or type. They have never had any training on how to properly use a computer without damaging their growing bodies. Many problems can be overcome with simple solutions, if they just know how. In addition, they have never received any training in this area to inform them of the potential hazards and to help them develop life-long habits of good computer use.
What is NEA's position on this important issue? We request the courtesy of your response so we can post it on the K-12 section of our web site.
The Starfield Group, Inc. is in the process of contacting our local school district to offer free copies of the adjustment portion of our software to every school in the district. In addition, we are making a free copy of the adjustment portion of our software available to a single school in every state on a first come, first serve basis (50 total). This will be available from our web site at http://www.ergostar.com. In addition to the free copies that we are making available, we are offering an unlimited use site license for the computers at any individual school for $100, a significant discount over the regular site license price.
The Starfield Group would be interested in partnering with the National Education Association to produce either printed or software based information that could be used to educate teachers and students on the proper use of computers. The material would explain the areas of concern and explain how to avoid the potentially serious medical problems that can occur from spending long periods of time using improperly arranged computer work areas.
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Keith D. Stubblefield