Left Handed Conference
at Le Monde de Deux Mains, Luxembourg, January 2007
On Friday 26 January, there was a conference in the large top floor conference facility at the Abbaye de Neumunster in Luxembourg titled "La condition du gaucher d'hier a aujourd'hui" - The left-handed condition from the past to the present. This involved a short presentation by each of the experts present and then a round table discussion with questions from the audience.
Presenters at the Left-Handed conference, from left to right:
Johanna Barbara Sattler, author and advisor on left-handedness from Germany
Rene Wiroth, the conference organiser, from Luxembourg
Christopher Seed, lefthanded concert pianist from the UK
Pierre-Michel Bertrand, author, from France
Keith and Lauren Milsom, directors of Anything Left-handed
There was a slight complication in having three different languages in use - French, German and English. Luckily the Cultural Centre had translators available and high-tech services for them to translate live, speaking into microphones that were then transmitted to wireless headsets for the presenters and audience. It worked pretty well, but we did need to keep changing headsets depending on which language the current speaker was using - a bit messy when it came to everyone contributing to the question and answer session at the end! All in all a very interesting exercise in European co-operation and very well managed by the organisers.
Barbara Sattler explained how her work was being supported by the German government and that she has developed a network of people in educational advice centres across the country who have been trained to help left-handed children together with their parents and teachers. There are currently over 100 advisers active in her network. She also told us that wherever children are given practice sheets or workbooks in class, it is just normal to have a left-handed version available as well. We are clearly a very long way behind this in the UK and, we suspect, most other countries as well. It is entirely down to Barbara's commitment and persistence over many years and a supportive stance by the German education system that such good progress has been made - very well done!
Pierre-Michel Bertrand gave an entertaining summary of how left-handers have fared through history (generally badly!) and thinks that currently left-handers are in a relatively good environment. However, it is all just relative and there are plenty of areas where left-handers are at a disadvantage - but we do not get burned or physically abused quite so much now!
Christopher Seed told us about how he started learning piano and other instruments as a child and the challenges he faced. When he had reached a very advanced level, his parents were advised by his teacher that he should give up playing piano as his ability would never match his aspirations! Luckily, his parents were wise enough not to pass this on to him and he continued his progress to become an international concert performer. Even though he found success playing piano in the traditional way, he always felt that he could achieve more if only he could play in what seemed to him as a left-hander to be the natural direction - with high notes on the left, the opposite way to all pianos. He experimented with electric keyboards using a device that could change the direction of the keyboard and found that he could indeed play with more technical expertise and feel when using his left-handed for the more melodic and complex parts. He went on to have the world's first left-handed piano built for him and has toured the world performing with it.
Lauren Milsom gave some background on Anything Left-Handed and the Left-Handers Club and talked about the practical difficulties left-handers can face. She explained the difference between left-and right-handed versions of various products and how they benefit left-handers. She also spoke about the work we have done to raise awareness of the issues facing left-handed children with schools and parents and the results of our recent survey on left-handed children's experiences at school.
Click here for more information on the survey and results.
Rene Wiroth spoke about his background as a musician and artists and what had brought him to organise this exhibition and conference. He had particular difficulties with playing the violin - he wanted to play left-handed but his teachers were very much against it.
The discussion and questions at the end were very wide ranging, but a particularly interesting area was a discussion about machinery and equipment and the level of accidents and injuries among left-handers being higher as a result of bad design (actually, things being designed just for right-handers). The consensus was that by campaigning for consideration of left-handers needs we may win some small victories but that overall it was unlikely to change as manufacturers were not willing to incur extra costs to meet the demands of a small minority of people (as they see it).
The conference concluded with a view from Keith Milsom based on the many thousands of emails and survey responses he has received: Although left-handers do face many practical problems, they are usually small annoyances and frustrations and things that we can work around, especially given some properly adapted basic tools. Left-handers as a group are generally very happy to be different and see many advantages to being left-handed as well as some problems. The vast majority of us left-handers would not have it any other way and would certainly not want to join the right-handed majority if we could go back and make a choice!
Links to the sections of this report on the
Monde de Deux Mains Exhibition, Luxembourg 2007:
The exhibition and some of the contents
Dr Barbara Sattler and left handedness in Germany
Pierre Michel Bertrand and his "Histoire des Gauchers"
Christopher Seed and his left-handed piano
The conference on lefthandedness