It has been very rewarding making video’s about living one-handed and some of the things I’ve learnt or invented along the way. If you are new to this site, I lost the use of my dominant arm in 1990. I was almost 18 and had a fairly horrific motorbike accident that resulted in the nerves of my arm being ripped from the spinal cord, causing instant paralysis. I did not choose to amputate until 2008, in an attempt to improve the chronic pain I have suffered since the accident.
The tips or videos below cover a pretty wide range of one-handed tips & tricks and I’m always happy to discuss in greater detail via email. There are heaps more one-armed folks like me with YouTube channels so if you can’t find something here, search and ye shall fine.
One-handed zipper use
Physical therapy for chronic shoulder pain
How to tie shoelaces one-handed
Applying sunscreen one-handed
Picking up baby one-handed
Opening Jars one-handed
Asking for help as a disabled person
Mowing the lawn one-handed
One-handed parenting book review
Around the House
The kitchen presents the most problems to me in my daily life as a one-armed bandit. As such I have the most devices, appliances and other tools for use in making things simpler.
The most difficult task would be chopping vegetables or peeling fruit & veg. I invested in a special chopping board for one-handed use and it is the model shown below, featuring an adjustable vise, chopping surface and nail board. The photo shows typical operation.
I spent $100 on my model, which is quite a chunk of change. It’s over ten years old and showing no signs of damage other than the square plastic prongs that the object is held against. Just cosmetic damage though.
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Get yourself an electric can opener. Jars can be very stubborn. I try a gripper-pad first and if unsuccessful a clever little gadget called a jar-popper. This amazing tool costs about $7 on Amazon. It has been 100% effective in the 5 years we have owned it. It works by leverage, popping the vacuum seal without piercing the lid. The lid then opens with ease.
The gripper pad has multiple uses, such as stopping plates sliding around on my lap or bench, opening wine bottles and the like.
- I lost the use of my dominant arm so initially found brushing my teeth one of the trickiest tasks. I currently use an Oral-B electric toothbrush.
- I shave both electric and manual with an school double-edge razor. As I can’t use the other hand to help stretch the skin I simply make funny faces to help expose the stubble. I would look rather silly but who cares!
- One trick that took me years to invent was how to apply sunscreen to my forearm one-handed. Have a look at the video below which shows me dabbing the lotion onto my forehead first, then wiping the forearm against it. To apply against the inner arm
- Showering. Clean your forearm using the same method for sunscreen. Try and buy Soaps and Shampoo with lids and dispensers that are easy to use and open one-handed.
- Drying after a shower one-handed is best done with a giant Bath Towel, and I also then finish off with a small microfibre towel. Drying is more efficient dabbing than rubbing, so just press your body against the Towel or even then leab against something to create more pressure.
Toilet – Toilet paper is a slight hassle to tear so you may find cheaper brands with crappy perforations will be extra difficult to rip off. I remember it being something I just had to get used to. You may find it a lot more convenient when the roll is on the same side as your arm.
Garage and Shed
I have an extra heavy duty cast iron bench vise I keep in the Garage and use for holding anything I cannot hold between my legs etc. I use a normal lawn-mower with no adaptions required. My weed-eater line trimmer is an 18V cordless. I help steady it across my body, resting across my thigh diagonally when required.
We own a Toyota Corona Automatic which I drive with no modifications. On an older car I used to own I had a truck drivers spinner knob on the steering wheel as the power steering wasn’t as strong as I’d like. On-armed driving is pretty much the same as two but you must have the indicators on the appropriate side.
Nothing special required but braking may be an issue, but you can move the brake levers to suit. You will find it difficult to adjust to the balance if you are like me, losing an arm then relearning to ride a bike.
I have experimented over the years with what type of bag is best for one-hand use and I can say it simply depends on the situation. Travelling to work on the train I alternate between no bag at all, and taking my messenger style bag when I want the laptop with me. If I wanted to take a camera only i either put in it a case that I belt carry. When I need must a bit more storage for stuff I use a man-bag such as this.
Things to look for when buying a bag Location of zips Types of fasteners, Velcro is easiest to use but can be noisy.
Clothing is obviously a personal thing but I can think of a few tips and tricks for clothes for the one-handed individual.
Pockets are king above all else! When you only have one hand you obviously have one less hand to carry things! Being able to quickly store and retrieve things is really important to me. One of my favourite purchases is a SCOTTeVEST which features a massive 24 Pockets! It was not cheap at $125 plus postage but it pretty much turns me into a human backpack.
Long-sleeve shirts – I cut the other sleeve off, leaving enough material to cover the stump. I much prefer short sleeve & Polo style shirts for work.
Shoes. I work in an Office so wear mostly slip on style shoes to avoid the hassle of shoelaces. It is easy actual easy to learn a one-handed lace knot, but I just find laces so inefficient and no advantage at all to slip ons. Saying that I do wear Dr Martens boots when I feel like a style change.
Clothing general – Buttons can be tricky but offer nowhere near as much trouble as some zips. You will learn to become incredibly dextrous and I can operate every zip one-handed when I can steady both sides.
Wallet. I now carry two wallets, keeping cash and ID in one and my bank cards the other. I have a Crabby wallet a really clever little design that they describe as ‘minimalist design, maximum utility’.
I do carry quite a lot of stuff. The photo below is a dump of my short pockets.
I’m a typical male who likes his gadgets and tools, and living with chronic pain means I usually need to take along some pain meds with me. That’s stored in the little black pill container shown lower left.
The various clips and keying’s all help me organise things into different functions and I always put things in the same pockets to help keep things easy to remember and run semi-automated. I use Pocket suspension clips to guarantee nothing can fall out.
Groceries – trolley steers best from the middle. No wobbily wheels Holds stuff with teeth And remember to ask for help!
How to tie knots and tie
Occupational therapy. If you became disabled like me, and lost the use of your arm in an accident, you will likely get to use the services of an Occupational Therapist. I visited several times during my month stay at the Dunedin Public Hospital. There I was taught lots of skills to cope one-handed, many of the tips here were born from my time with them. These highly skilled people could not come more highly recommended.