Wheel Chairs are clunky and bulky, and although it's getting better with new government mandates, it's still not easy to get everywhere with a wheelchair. How can you create a cost-effective way to allow children that are developmentally disabled to have a more normal life, and experience new things that were not previously possible from their wheelchair?
There is a lot to think about within this issue. Here are three major challenges that children in wheelchairs face every day. Firstly, children that are wheelchair bound need lots of support to maintain proper posture. Secondly, you must think of how the child-caretaker interaction will occur: how can we make it as conformable as possible for both child and caregiver? The last major issue that poses itself is how do you make a chair that the child cannot easily grow out of? This is especially important in the early stages of life when significant growth takes place. It is important to keep these children as comfortable as possible in their everyday lives.
The first step was devoting significant hours of research trying to figure out what exists on the market currently to generate a better understanding of what is and is not working so far. We also tried to evaluate the market strands for other mobility devices such as baby carseats to see if they could severe as a base platform given their inherent portability and see if we could build upon these ideas for larger individuals. After evaluating what was already on the market found some significant weaknesses. In particular there were three major issues. Firstly, there seemed to be an issues with handling pain points and their locations/effects that they placed on the body. Secondly, children outgrew carseats too quickly, rendering a seven hundred dollar seat useless within six months to a year. Lastly, the placement of the straps and how adjustable they were also seemed to be less than optima for both comfort and usability.
For this project, we were lucky enough to have access to a school filled with teachers and occupational therapists that allowed for use to receive critical insight into what we had to take into account when trying to improve and develop a product for this market, while also giving us an honest opinion on whether our ideas were moving in the correct direction.
We decided to take a preexisting chair and modify it to better suit the needs of individual children instead of being a generic seat that can be outgrown. Our design started with the idea of a skeleton that is the base for every chair allowing for simplified mass production and minimizing overhead cost quality control issues. From this base, we designed a slot system that would allow for cushions to be attached to it, the basic model would have four cushions, a seat, lower back, mid back, and lastly, a headrest. With the cushions being removable it would allow for the seat to be easily washed, and adjusted based on the child's needs and growth. In order to create a tailored experience, the cushions for the seat are ordered through the child's occupational therapist, to ensure the seat is helping the child get the correct posture as well as offering comfortable support. The cushions are adjusted using foam shaping methods, as well as different densities of foam. With the cushions being removable they can be swapped out when the occupational therapist assess a change needs to take place or even when the child has out grown them. This modular design allows for one to two parts to be changed rather than rending the seat useless.
The cushions will be composed of HDPE plastic that will be heat moulded to the form as requested by the Occupational therapist. and then covered in the foam and shaped to their specifications. The foam will then be wrapped in a waterproof but breathable membrane to protect from spills but also let the foam breath. This is then all wrapped in a thick cloth that is easily removed and washing machine safe.
The skeleton will also be composed of the HDPE plastic, it will allow for the cushions to slot into it in whatever formation is required for the child. The skeleton is to be fitted with straps to allow it to securely be strapped into any chair, with straps fitted on the back of the seat as well as the base giving the seat three secure anchoring points.
This seat ultimately allowing the child the freedom to play, interact and experience things not previously allowed by a typical wheelchair. It opens up the families opportunities as well allowing them to go where wheelchair cannot like to friends and families houses that are not wheelchair friendly.