Left-Handedness is a Disability

Charlie Garcia-Spiegel
4 min readMar 7, 2021

It is always interesting to me which bodily differences are considered disabilities, and which are not. This is distinct, in my mind, from what differences are disabling. Disabling experiences of the body are not inherently named as disabilities. Disability is a socially constructed category. Many value-neutral bodily differences are considered disabilities, and many bodily experiences which are disabling are not considered as such.

I consider left-handedness to be in the latter category. There is a centuries-long marginalization of left-handed people which persists to this day in the form of structural inaccessibility and implicit punishment of left-handedness. While left-handed people for the most part no longer deal with the explicit forcible conversion to right-handed navigation of the world, the world is simply not built for left-handed people, and this value-neutral bodily difference becomes disabling as a result.

There is certainly a historical basis for the marginalization of left-handedness. In a majority right-handed world, left-handed people have consistently been seen as Other and strange. From the origins of the word sinister as the Latin word for the left side, to the centuries of forcing left-handed children to use their right hand, there is a documented historical trend of this bias against left-handed people. Many people are under the impression that the disappearance of overt violence against left-handed people means that this bias no longer exists, but using the social model of disability, we can analyze the barriers left-handed people face as an extension of ableism.

Both structural inaccessibility and implicit punishment of left-handedness are fuelled by the assumption of right-handedness as a default. This assumption shapes nearly every aspect of the world around us. Many classroom desks are explicitly built for students to use with their right hand. Scissors (and many other implements) are angled for ease of use with the right hand. Spiral-bound notebooks assume that the person writing in them will be using their right hand to do so. Many musical instruments are strung or set up by default with the assumption that the musician using them will have a dominant right hand. Most DSLR cameras are set up so that buttons can easily and quickly be reached using the right hand. Computer mice, keyboards, and trackpads are built for ease of use with the right hand.

This structural inaccessibility, rather than the historical overt demonization of left-handedness, is what leads to the continued punishment of left-handed people. While there are some workarounds, and many tools are available in left-handed variants, these are both more expensive than right-handed implements and more difficult to find. As a result, many left-handed people struggle to move through a world that is not made for them, and suffer as a result.

When a teacher instructs students to complete assignments in pen or in a spiral-bound notebook, and subsequently lowers a left-handed student’s grade due to illegible handwriting, that is an implicit punishment of left-handedness. When a family comprises mainly of left-handed people but the majority of the tools present in the home are built for right-handed people, that is an implicit punishment of left-handedness. When left-handed people develop chronic pain from trying to make do with right-handed implements, that is an implicit punishment of left-handedness. When a left-handed person cannot access the tools they need to succeed, and face more barriers in life because of it, that is an implicit punishment of left-handedness. In short, when society creates arbitrary standards based on the right hand as the dominant hand, and subsequently penalizes left-handed people for not meeting these standards, that is an implicit punishment of left-handedness.

This combination of structural inaccessibility and implicit punishment for a value-neutral bodily difference mirrors the contemporary understanding of disability as socially constructed in many ways. (There are, of course, bodily experiences which would be painful or disabling even without societal ableism, but many experiences of disability rely on this cycle of standard-creation and punishment.) Experiencing life as a left-handed person is made more difficult by society simply because the left-handed person’s body is in the minority. Recognizing this, and inviting community-building and solidarity between otherwise-nondisabled left-handed people and right-handed disabled people, is key for changing the conditions within which left-handed people operate.

Left-handed people as a whole have a lot to learn from disability cultures, including cultures of disability advocacy. I invite my fellow left-handed people to engage with internalized ableism that might bring them to resist this framing, and I urge right-handed disabled people to examine the ways in which even otherwise-nondisabled left-handed experiences parallel traditional experiences of disability. Left-handedness is a bodily difference I am proud of, just as I am proud of navigating the world as a disabled person. It is time to join the two communities together.

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Charlie Garcia-Spiegel

student worker and organizer on stolen ramaytush and lisjan lands. ch.garciaspiegel@gmail.com for professional communication, twitter for everything else