This article is part of our October 2018 series about the state of design and creativity. Click here for more.
Brands everywhere are taking positive steps to boost inclusivity and reflect the richly diverse, cosmopolitan societies they operate in. But for people with physical disabilities, the ability to avail themselves of certain products and services can’t be solved with a hashtag or viral video to raise awareness. It’s a design challenge, which needs a design solution.
Brands are recognizing that, too. Here are some great innovations that demonstrate how they’re adapting their offerings, adding new ones, or building entire businesses designed to help people with physical disabilities.
Exhibit A: The Tech Giant
From FIFA to Fortnite, the global games industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. Many gamers’ weapon of choice is Microsoft’s Xbox One. However, until just recently, the device and its myriad titles weren’t accessible to players with limited mobility in their hands because the console’s controllers weren’t designed in a way that worked well for them.
But back in May, Microsoft announced that its design team had been working with a number of charities, occupational therapists, and disabled gamers. The result: an adaptive Xbox One controller especially for disabled gamers.
The controller, which can rest on a person’s lap, on a table, or on the floor, has two large buttons on its face that can be operated with hands, elbows, or feet. The product officially launched in September, with the company also announcing a range of add-ons to cater for those with additional mobility issues.
Exhibit B: The Iconic Brand
Automotive giant Ford is developing an Accessibility Mat in Brazil for the boot of its EcoSport model, designed to help wheelchair users navigate the urban landscape once they’ve parked.
The car, which the brand says is its best-selling vehicle for disabled drivers in the region, will feature a mat that transforms into a portable ramp. Pavements in the country often lack ramp access, so the new device will offer passengers with disabilities an easier way of climbing the curb.
The mat/ramp is constructed from lightweight materials, including aluminum and EVA lining, that, when opened, become stiff and inflexible, with the capacity to support up to 250 kilograms (551 pounds). It can easily fit onto the back of a wheelchair when not in use.
The product features sensors and a microprocessor that sends Bluetooth signals to the user’s mobile phone every time it is used. All of that data is gathered on a site to which local authorities have access, so they can see which areas get the most wheelchair traffic and would therefore benefit most from the addition of ramp access.
Exhibit C: The Startup
In England, Bristol is the home of many an innovative design business. One standout is Open Bionics, a firm that specialises in bionic limbs.
The company is the brainchild of Joel Gibbard, who operates as part inventor and part engineer. Following a self-described obsession with developing robotic hands as a teenager, Gibbard launched Open Bionics in 2014 alongside entrepreneur Samantha Payne. Their vision: to make beautiful bionic limbs more affordable.
The team has developed hundreds of prototypes and sought expertise from further afield by open sourcing their technology so that others can build upon it. As such, their mission becomes a shared one, alongside anyone willing to take up the cause. The OpenBionics website serves as an online repository of videos, code, designs, and tutorials.
Another startup, Transreport, designed a mobile app for people who need assistance on and off train services in the U.K. Passenger Assist allows customers to easily book assistance whilst providing live updates to rail staff in the case of any last-minute delays or platform alterations.
Joining The Dots
So we’ve got product design, fashion, and tech innovation. What binds them is collaboration among brands, charities, advocate groups, and the people these innovations are designed to help.
Microsoft, for example, spoke to multiple parties throughout the process to hone its product before going to market. Open Bionics shares its research and development in the open source community. While developing its app, Transreport worked closely with Disability Rights UK to gather user feedback throughout every iteration.
When we come together, our shared experience and expertise enhances what we do and drives inclusion forward.