People who are left-handed by birth face a lot of issues settling into normal life.
Curiosity got the better of Andrea Hayek-Schwarz, an Austrian teacher from a family with left-handers but whose own three daughters -- and herself -- were, more conveniently, right-handers. Or so she thought.
AdvertisementSix years and lots of research later, she is now a specialist offering to liberate left-handers forced by cultural diktats to confront life unnaturally, using their "right" hand.
While some lefties like Julius Caesar, Charlie Chaplin and Barack Obama overcome any odds and rose to fame, left-handers still face "prejudice in a world conceived by right-handers," Hayek-Schwarz said ahead of the annual International Left-Handers Day on August 13.
"We remain a neglected section of the population and the products for lefties, such as knives, scissors or even musical instruments, are rare and expensive," the 47-year-old said in an interview with AFP.
She points to a young woman dentist she knows who "cannot afford to set up a surgery for lefties", and is forced to practice in a non-adapted environment where standard equipment is designed for right-handers.
In 2004, Andrea Hayek-Schwarz, whose mother and husband were both lefties, started wondering why the trait -- which tends to run in families and is thought to be genetic -- was not reproduced in any of her three daughters.
When she delved into studies on "the problem of lefties", she tried out some of the tests on her own girls and discovered they were indeed frustrated left-handers -- but even more surprising, so was she.
Her eldest daughter, then nine, became her guinea pig as Hayek-Schwarz worked to refine a programme to guide frustrated lefties back to their natural state. Once she succeeded with the three still very young girls, she tried the methodology on herself. At age 45 she relearned how to write with her left hand -- research she used in a university program to confirm her specialty.
"It is not easy to detect lefties who have been converted into right-handers," the expert conceded, saying it involves long, drawn-out tests.
She now treats about 20 adults and 30 youngsters each year.
Reprogramming can take six months to two years, depending on age, according to Hayek-Schwarz who said natural "lefties converted to righties" can suffer problems of concentration, memory or learning because they've been thwarted from using their full potential.
She confessed that she herself feels "more on the ball" and quicker in discussions since relearning to write with her left hand. Clients have told her they feel more confident of their abilities at work and in everyday life.
Leftie websites abound detailing minefields for the minority, like drinking from the next person's glass, going for the "wrong" cheek and kissing someone's lips, or dangers when using right-handed power tools.
So August 13 is one day when "left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages," touts a site by the British-based Left-Handers Club (www.lefthandersday.com).
In the absence of conclusive statistics, it estimates the leftie minority at 13 percent of the world's population, while a French website, www.lesgauchers.com, suggests it is only eight percent.
The French site notes that cultural differences have led to great regional disparities, with only one percent of people in the Far East left-handed while in Europe it climbs to 13 percent.
The site says the number of lefties in developed nations has steadily increased over the last century as prejudices faded, and named Australia, the United States and Britain as today's most "tolerant" nations.
Hayek-Schwarz said strong resistance, however, remains in many cultures, notably India where the left hand is taboo for eating, and Muslim countries where it is the hand used to deal with anything dirty.
"Even in Europe, it has been barely 20 years since children are no longer required to write only with their right hand," she said, noting the French term for left-handers, "gaucher", is an insult meaning clumsy or gauche.
The time to act, the expert stressed, is when children start nursery or pre-school and little left-handers tend to imitate the majority to fit in with their classmates. Along with increasing teachers' awareness about nurturing lefties, she insists on the role parents should play.
"If a child eats, waves or catches something spontaneously with the left hand, it is up to the adults to encourage the child to use the left hand, which appears dominant."
Though International Left-Handers Day, started by a US group in 1976, is marked with informal events in various countries like leftie sports matches or tea parties, many left-handers still miss out.
According to lesgauchers.com, even today "only 20 percent (of the world's left-handers) can ever expect to live 'normally'."