Vol. 27 • Issue 22
• Page 10
"No one writes anymore."
Handwriting, they say, is a lost art. Some schools even have de-emphasized penmanship and the ability to transfer one's thoughts and ideas onto a page of paper.
Despite the prevalence of computers and text messaging, the ability to hand write is an important activity of daily living that does not need to be ignored.
As an OT, I work in the area of industrial rehabilitation where functional capacity evaluations are the majority of my business. As part of my FCE process, I have been collecting handwriting samples when assessing hand coordination and validating hand dominance. As a result, I have compiled a rather large (300) normative base of handwriting speeds for adults (age range 18-65).
Although computers are used more and more in higher skilled occupations, many injured workers still live in a "pen and pad" world. It is not just the blue collar workers; many nurses, therapists and other health care providers still chart the "old fashioned way" as well. In addition, there is still the need for efficient handwriting for tasks such as completing intake paperwork when visiting the physician, completing job applications, taking notes in any situation, etc. Handwriting is also a preliminary skill step to drawing and sketching, a rewarding and sometimes essential ADL for some.
FCE evaluators may at times reference the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a creation of the U.S. Employment Service, which used its thousands of occupational definitions to match job seekers to jobs from 1939 to the late 1990s. In 2009, a subcommittee was assigned the task of updating the DOT. One of its suggestions involved handwriting (a task previously not mentioned). The committee reported that handwriting needed to be analyzed because "most occupations in today's environment required handwriting to some extent. The duration of writing can affect the work tolerance of those with carpal tunnel and arthritis."
An extensive search of existing research reveals there are currently no such "handwriting" norms for adults. We have normative data for fine dexterity, gripping strength, pinch strength but "normal" handwriting speeds are missing.
The objective of this study was to establish normative data concerning handwriting speed (HWS) for adults. The study included 300 individuals. The sample was a convenience sample selected from the patients visiting our clinic for functional capacity evaluation (FCE). Exclusion criteria included individuals with diagnosed or self-reported dominant hand and wrist injuries.
All subjects were from Alabama, which includes urban, suburban, and rural areas. Therefore, it was assumed that a broad range of socio-economic and occupational groups was obtained. Values were recorded as total letters copied in 5 minutes. No distinction was made with regards to age, gender or educational level. Hand dominance information was collected, but it did not factor into any conclusions.
Participants copied a standard typed document (The Rudyard Kipling poem If) in 5 minutes. The task was performed sitting, with the handwriting materials situated on a fold-out work table. Text of the document was in a 14-point century gothic font. Participants could modify the font size if they needed to. Data was collected and letter count tallied to provide an average "letters per minute."
From the 300 handwriting samples collected, the normative data for letters per minute was determined to be 68 LPM (customary handwriting speed). We selected letters per minute (as opposed to words per minute) due to the high variability of words. To measure in words per minute (wpm) would yield uncertain results when scoring unequal words such as: "the" and "occupation" equally. The scores ranged from a minimum of 26 LPM to a maximum of 113 LPM. Participants were given the option of printing or handwriting. The OT monitored time using a standard stop watch. Standard deviation of the scores was: 17.9 letters per minute.
My data may serve as a norm base for assessing handwriting speeds with your adult patients. I believe this is useful information for work capacity evaluators, hand therapists, vocational evaluators and many others. It also may be useful when re-training amputees and establishing reasonable, achievable goals with regards to handwriting. In particular, the establishment of norms for adult handwriting speed is an important factor in decision making when assessing a patient's ability to return to specific work situations that require written communications.
If you are interested in using our test materials, I will share the test text with scoring sheet as well as a normative summary.
Dave Bledsoe Jr., OTR/L, CIR, is the principal of Bledsoe Occupational Therapy Inc. His practice includes functional capacity assessments, impairment calculations, work conditioning, job site analysis & ERISA consultation services. He has testified as an expert witness and has given presentations to the Georgia State Bar and other related organizations. He is a fieldwork educator for his alma mater, UAB, and is vice-president of ALOTA. He can be reached at www.dbledsoe@FCEAlabama.com.