Feeling left out but after their rights

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The Independent Online
FROM BEHIND the net curtains of an unexceptional terraced house a woman is mounting a national campaign for a group she believes is Britain's least-recognised oppressed minority. An estimated one in five people are part of this group. But, she says, nobody takes any notice of left-handers.

Kim Cook, 50, is leading her crusade from her home in West Wickham, Kent, while running a business repairing domestic appliances. She walks into the kitchen and picks up a breadknife. 'Knives,' she says. 'Look at the blade. It's serrated on one side. I can only use it at an angle.' She lifts the kettle. 'When I pick this up the water gauge is on the back. The same with measuring jugs.'

She points to the microwave. 'All the controls are on the right. The door opens the wrong way.' She grabs the iron. 'My husband had to rewire this so the flex didn't get caught up all the time.'

Mrs Cook founded the British Association for the Left-Handed and Ambidextrous three years ago. This Friday her members will take part in the second International Left-Handers Day.

But one of Mrs Cook's biggest problems is that no one in authority will recognise their grievances, let alone establish how many people are left-handed. A request to the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys to include a question in the 1991 survey proved yet again that right-handers simply do not take their mirror images seriously.

'I never got an official answer.' says Mrs Cook. 'But they said they weren't going to bother because there weren't enough of us. How on earth did they know?'

Left-handers argue that while other minority groups have won recognition for their needs from designers, manufacturers and corporations, they continue to be ignored. Black & Decker, for example, created a range of power tools with the override power button on the left. This meant left- handers risked accidentally starting it when they picked it up. When the Left-Handers' Club complained, the firm admitted the flaw had not occurred to them.

Some see right-hander influence as pernicious, encompassing cashpoint machines, telephones, underground ticket barriers, check-out tills and door handles. Even language, they say, plays a part, with the Latin and French words for left, sinister and gauche, having attained negative connotations in English.

But if left-handers feel so strongly, why don't they demand action?

'Oh, we're very adaptable,' stresses Lauren Milsom, 29, who founded the Left-Handers' Club with her husband Keith and runs Anything Left-Handed, a mail order service for left-handed products, from Brewer Street, London. 'We're not saying we can't cope with the way things are. But it's a constant irritation which could so easily be avoided. There's no reason why buttons, switches and dials should not go in the middle rather than always on the right.'

Right-handers simply do not understand what the fuss is about. Recently a man whose daughter wished to renew her subscription to the Left-Handers' Club wrote anonymously to the Milsoms stating that he was 'reluctant as the items she has been sent over the past year are hardly conducive to her adapting her left-handedness to a world where 92 per cent of the population are right-handed'.

He went on to question whether they should not help her adapt to a right-handed world rather than making money from 'gadgets'.

The letter provoked a storm of protest. 'This letter made me very cross,' wrote Janet Titterton of Argyll. 'Would a right-handed person like to have to use only left- handed items?' fumed Duncan Campbell of Oban. 'This letter is typical of the right-handed bias which we 'lefties' have to suffer and face every day,' wrote Juan Angel Veintemillas of Spain.

Such issues had not occurred to the right-handed Mr Cook before he met his wife. Now his house boasts left-hand flush lavatories and Jeannie, a left-handed dog. 'I reckon 80 per cent of the population doesn't give a monkey's,' he says thoughtfully. 'That's what it boils down to.'

(Photograph omitted)