MSD Thesis Project



ABSTRACT: There are over 1.7 million wheelchair users in the United States today. They share a common bond in that they all have physical limitations and daily obstacles to overcome. Activities of daily living (ADLs) are tasks performed day to day for self care, including eating, grooming, dressing, using the toilet, walking and bathing. These and other routine daily activities that are taken for granted by able-bodied people can be particularly troublesome for the disabled. An assistive technology (AT) device is a piece of equipment or product system designed to improve the functional capacity of individuals with disabilities. When used, AT can improve both independence and quality of life. This study aimed to explore physical functionality and AT device use/nonuse among wheelchair users. Qualitative methods including interviews, observations, surveys, and internet chats were applied to better understand the wants and needs of the end users of AT.

An iterative approach to product design was employed in the development, testing and fabrication of the Pneumatic Arm Lift (PAL). The goal of this project was to involve the end user from the beginning of the design process in the creation of an inexpensive, durable, and efficient device. This would lead to increased independence and reduce device abandonment. The study showed that a successful device could be created through several iterations and user feedback. The qualitative aspect of the research uncovered similarities in troublesome ADLS. It also showed that many users of AT create their own devices and adapt them to their individual needs instead of paying high prices for products that do not work as well. This is particularly relevant to industrial designers as their occupation is to improve lives through product innovation. Researchers, designers, and engineers need to collaborate to create new AT devices for the diverse disabled community.

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