Thea Schrenk (Bachelors Student of Media & Information System) and Jinesh Parekh (Masters Student of Human Computer Interaction)
In a study conducted in Herefordshire that about 8% of the households have a member with a locomotor disability. Millions of people around the world who suffer due to lack of accessibility for locomotion disabilities. They feel ostracized and like they have not been included because of their inability to conduct simple everyday tasks. Most of these tasks could be performed easily if there would be a stronger sense of universal design in their daily lives. Their inability to get past basic daily activities arises from poor design principles used in their environments.
We started working on this project by finding a person (or subject) with a locomotion disability and understand the difficulties that arise in the subject’s day-to-day activities due to the disability. We wanted to know if we could come up with an idea to change something positively for the subject by carefully observing his daily life. We did this by conducting several interviews (on Skype) and studying videos of the subject’s daily activities and the environment in which he conducts these activities. This helped us understand the situation of the subject and empathize with cases whereby people have locomotive disabilities.
After comprehending the subject’s complications and problems, we moved towards creating a solution. We compiled a list of possible design changes and implementations that could help improve the subject’s lifestyle. The solution was broken down into two parts –
1) Changing the environment that adapts to the subject’s needs and to those who face similar conditions.
2) Creating a support device or a splint that would smoothen the subject’s (and those with similar conditions) daily operations and task performance.
This has been an interesting study and a learning experience for us but we have merely scratched the surface in understanding the difficulties faced by people with locomotive disabilities everyday. We acknowledge that a lot more research needs to be done in this area and that studying it in depth could lead us to design better solutions.
Understanding The Persona
Mr. Nagin Parekh is 54 years of age. He is a professional public (tax) accountant. He calls himself a work-o-holic and finds joy in his 60 hour weeks. Since he was 22 he has been working Monday to Saturday about 10-11 hours a day. He lives with his wife in an apartment in Mumbai.
In January 2011, he met with an accident that altered his way of life. He was out on a holiday with his wife and he decided to try out Hot Air Ballooning. The wind was stronger than usual and the hot air balloon had a steep fall from about 150-175 feet in the air. This resulted in severe (and permanent) ankle damage.On his right leg, his Talus bone was cracked and on his left leg Calcaneus was shifted from its original position. In the figure 1.1 one can understand the position and the relationship of these bones. After multiple surgeries and over a period of 6 months on complete bed rest, the doctors used titanium strings to hold the bones together.
He can now walk but with extreme difficulties because of the perpetual pain. The doctors mentioned that the pain will lifelong but in years to come he will get used to the pain. Both the bones are weight bearing bones. i.e. when a person is standing this is where the weight of the body is concentrated on.
According to Mr. Parekh:
“If I stand for more than 20 minutes, my feet swell up and I experience a lot of pain. More than usual. I immediately need to find a place to sit and raise my legs. When I sit the weight on my ankles is released thereby reducing the pain and when I raise my legs the blood flow is lesser thereby subsiding the swellings. But if it’s not possible for some reason to sit for more than 45 minutes the pain is completely unbearable!”
He avoids using painkillers to cope with the pain. However, when the pain becomes unbearable his doctor has prescribed a drug called Combiflam – a mixture of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. He wants to reduce the intake of these pills over a period of time as they have immediate and long term side effects. Immediate side effects include upset stomach, nausea, occasional vomiting and headache. Long term side effects include organ (liver) failure. His doctor has recommended that he alters his lifestyle in a way that does not add stress to his ankle in his day to day activities and hence reduce the need for this painkiller.
Understanding User Activities and Finding Solutions
In order to better understand difficulties faced by Mr. Parekh, we started tracking his daily activities. This gave an insight on how we could create a solution that fits his needs through a special device and through alteration in his work and home environment.
Activity Breakdown – 1
Time: 6:00AM – 6:20AM Activity: Wake up from bed and walk for a few minutes. Pain Level: High Comment: After an entire night of sleep Mr. Parekh wakes up with high levels of pain and swollen feet. He then needs to walk for a few minutes to release the pain. The apartment that Mr. Parekh stays in has a small terrace that he uses to walk. To access this apartment he needs to climb a step. The climb is difficult in the morning as pains levels are already high.
The step needed to enter the terrace in Mr Parekh’s apartment needs to be converted to a slope. This would enable smoother access for Mr. Parekh when he going for his morning 15 minutes walk.
Activity Breakdown – 2
Time: 6:30AM – 9:30AM Activity: Getting ready for work Pain Level: Bearable Comment: After his short walk and the morning newspaper Mr. Parekh gets ready for work. The toilet he uses has a step which makes it difficult for him to access. He then finishes his breakfast and leaves for work. Driving to his office takes about 30 minutes and is relatively easy as there isn’t much weight being borne by his ankles.
The step needed to access the bathroom in Mr Parekh’s apartment needs to be converted to a slope. This would enable easy access.
Activity Breakdown – 3
Time: 9:30AM – 9:45AM Activity: Walking from Parking lot to Office Pain Level: High Comment: This is the difficult part of the day. Getting from the parking lot to the office is very strenuous. The road that he walks on is uneven and he needs to call one of his colleagues to help him carry his office briefcase as the additional weight of the briefcase cannot be borne by his ankle. In front of the office entrance does has an open parking spot but it’s hard to get parking here. The entrance has a few steps which makes it difficult to navigate.
1. The parking spot should be closer towards the entrance. We noticed that there was a car right outside the office building. Mr. Parekh should write to the building’s managing committee and request this spot to be allocated as a handicap spot.
2. The roads from the parking lot to the office building are uneven, bumpy and have steps. They are very inconvenient to walk on even for people without locomotive disabilities. They need to be evened out and they should have slopes instead of steps for easier access.
3. We noticed that the office building entrance is not handicap friendly. There needs to be a better way for people with locomotive disabilities to enter the building. A special lift or structural changes that enable slopes would be recommended.
Activity Breakdown – 4
Time: 9:30AM – 9:45AM Activity: Working in Office Pain Level: Bearable Comment: This is the easiest part of the day. When Mr Parekh gets tired he uses his briefcase to rest his legs and reduce the blood flow and swellings to his ankles.
It isn’t easy and comfortable for Mr. Parekh to raise his legs and keep on the briefcase to reduce the flow of blood and swellings on his ankles. He needs a special form of splint to rest his lefts or small leg resting cushion couch to keep this legs comfortably.
Activity Breakdown – 5
Time: 7:30PM – 7:45PM Activity: Return Home Pain Level: High Comment: The same journey is made from office to home. At this time Mr Parekh feel tired and is in pain. He wants to just get some rest and sleep.
Reduce working hours.
It took us a long time to think of a device that could best suit Mr. Parekh and subjects with similar disabilities.
When Mr. Parekh stands for more than a few minutes his ankles start paining and they swell up. In order to avoid these swellings and reduce the blood flow, Mr. Parekh needs to raise his legs while sitting by about 75 degrees. It is however not possible for him to do so in many public places as chairs aren’t designed to best suit his needs. This gave us an idea of using a splint or a special support device for Mr Parekh’s legs that could take the weight away from the ankle. The idea was to find a splint that would be usable, comfortable, functional and hidden.
At first, we thought about a splint that could be wearable like a pant. The splint would be extremely functional as it would lock up the knee section with a single push button but this would be highly uncomfortable to wear. Later, we thought about a detachable (by velcro) splint across the leg with a similar push button functionality. This would be more comfortable however the subject did not seem to appreciate the idea. The visible factor of the splint made the subject very uncomfortable and feel ostracized from society. This made us disregard this idea and start rethinking the process.
Here is the prototype version of the actual splint:
Paper Prototype – View 1
The splint will be an external wearable belt as seen in the image above. They are tied on the leg by two grips. These grips have velcro that can adjust to different leg sizes. The stand jutting out is completely collapsible and can be pulled easily from the main frame. There is a stop lock clip that adjusts the angle – sort of like henges. This is the final version of our paper prototype is this is most usable version we have as yet. The user could be sitting on any chair, the splint would be able to help him/her by taking the weight off the ankles. The stand can be pulled out easily by any user without much cognition or dexterity.
Paper Prototype – View 2
It was important for us to choose the right materials for the splint. The overall frame is made with a lightweight and sturdy fibre or metal. The material could be something that is used in hiking sticks. It was also important for us to keep this spint comfortable. The inner part of the belt would have a soft cushioned padding that easily absorbs sweat. This reduces the stress for user from wearing it for extended periods.
Paper Prototype – View 3
One of the key focus on the design idea was lack of visibility. Many users with disabilities can get conscious or shy. They do not want to be looked down upon and this is the reason they do not use special tools that serve their disability. Mr Parekh was very clear that could be hidden under his pants and that he did not have to wear it externally on his clothing. The slidable socket makes the splint more portable and compact and also serves users of different height.
Paper Prototype – View 4
Lastly, it is important to make sure that this splint is long lasting and durable. We want to create sustainable design that has a very high usage life. The device should be capable of serving as many different people of different height with ankle problems similar to that of Mr. Parekh’s.
This splint can be used by anyone with a similar disability. The image below represents the usability scale. The grey circular blocks are the requirements for users to use it. The green circular blocks represent Mr. Parekh’s ability.
With a combination of the splint and a few changes in the environment we believe Mr Parekh can better cope with his disabilities. It was a challenging task to conceptualize a splint that could be adopted by Mr Parekh in his daily life and people with similar ankle problems.
Locomotive disorder is a serious issue that needs to addressed by designers of products and services. Whilst a lot more study is required in this subject area, it has been very interesting to work on this project.