The Wonderful World of Adapted Pens

Writing with a pen again is satisfying when it’s something you thought you’d given up.

Recently, I interviewed an AT Specialist and asked her for a favorite client success story. To my surprise, she immediately recalled providing an adapted pen to a man with ALS. “He probably thought he’d never sign his name again,” she told me. “I had a few adapted pens on me, and when he succeeded, he was so happy. It was just a great moment.”

Her message: never underestimate the power of a low-tech tool.

That story stuck with me. Pens, I realized, had been getting skinnier for years and I’d failed to notice. What I did notice was I no longer wanted to hold one. They were difficult to pick up. They often flew out of my hand like everything else (I broke my iPhone 6 screen on day two). It took a long time to realize this was some kind of carpal tunnel/ulnar nerve issue.

My first aha moment came when I heard a woman at a checkout register complain that carpal tunnel made everything fly out of her hands… I simply hadn’t connected the dots.

My second aha came when I picked up a chunky pen, some swag from ATIA, that had been kicking around my house for over a year. This time it was a revelation. I could hold it, and I wanted to.

A plastic button-top retractable pen with the words Central Intelligence Agency on one of its three sides. Has rubber grip band and a clip.
Thank you Central Intelligence Agency.

Immediately I looked for a pack online with no luck.

So here’s what I’ve been trialing:

The PenAgain

A chunky pen with a horseshoe-shaped base and retractable cap with clip and trigger button.

Like the CIA pen, the PenAgain has a three-sided shaft for comfortable gripping, but it also has a horseshoe top to brace against the base of your forefinger. The packaging says this reduces the need to grip and takes advantage of the weight of your hand to apply pressure. There is also a heavyweight version of the PenAgain that may be helpful for individuals who experience tremors.

Pros:

I like it in my hand. I’m more stable. The surface is pleasingly silky. The cap activates with a button and retracts with your thumb (this takes effort, however, and won’t work for everyone). I like that it can be clipped to a shirt or something, though I haven’t used it that way. My writing is better (I recognize the old me!)

A hand holds the PenAgain pen over lined paper.

Cons:

I don’t like it as well as the CIA pen for one important reason: it takes positioning, and I have to think about how to hold it when I pick it up. This is getting better with time, as with most new devices (most memorably my ball track mouse that now I can’t do without).

RinG-Pen

A hand holds the RinG-Pen with forefinger inserted through ring. Pen extends in either direction from the base of the forefinger.

My RinG-Pen is elegant with gold highlights. This might appeal to seniors who may not appreciate chunky writing tools in primary colors suitable for Kindergarten.

Pros:

It’s comfortable around my forefinger and classy, somehow reminiscent of a cigarette holder from the ’40s. It also stays put if I let go and I can leave it dangling while I pick up something else.

Cons:

It’s skinny. I’m not as accurate manipulating skinny pens; this is my issue. I appreciate it takes less pressure from my hand, like the PenAgain, but I don’t like guiding or gripping it. Fussing with the RinG-Pen, I think it’s a little small for me. I’m more successful extending my forefinger beyond the landing pad to guide the pen rather than grip it (as instructed).

On Amazon, an OT has compared the PenAgain and RinG-Pen in a review. She reports: “The majority of my patients who have trigger finger or arthritis issues prefer the PenAgain and those with tremors have preferred the ring pen if it fits the finger well.” She notes, too, that the RinG-Pen does not fit most adult men.

More adapted pens to know about:

Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity Pen

A chrome ball point pen with a rubber ergonomic grip.

This one has been around since 1995 and comes in a variety of styles, as a pen or pencil, and with different point types. The pen is advertised as being well-balanced, reducing fatigue, and achieving high marks from the Arthritis Foundation as well as Georgia Tech for ease of use. (I should really try this one.)

Evo Pen

A kidney-shaped plastic pen like a skipping stone with a pen tip. Package reads: Contoured to fit the natural shape of your hand. Evo pen.

Also commended by the Arthritis Foundation, the Evo Pen is designed to use the entire hand not specific muscles in fingers. Check out this AT3 Center video demonstration of the Evo and the PenAgain.

Writing Bird

A plastic hand support shaped like a flat dove holds a pencil upright with a screw.

This ergonomic pen attachment allows for use by individuals without a thumb-to-finger grip and persons with limited hand control. Check out this AT3 Center video demonstration.

Steady Write Pen

A hand writing on a notepad with a pen attached to a plastic support that folds around the pen and spreads out under the hand to stabilize against the writing surface.

This device supports the pen at a consistent angle to the writing surface, stabilizing the hand to reduce tremors and improve handwriting. Users may grip with fingers or knuckles.

Happy writing!

More resources:

Assistive Technology Solutions for Writing (an AMAC video overview)
AT3 Center’s Explore AT: Writing