Designing for Independence
Fine motor skills are the small movements that require synchronization between the hands and eyes. While these skills are typically established in early childhood stages, serious injuries, neurological illnesses, and certain genetic conditions can all contribute to the varying success of their development. I, along with four of my mechanical engineering peers, took our learnings from two case studies to develop a tool that enables independence in those challenged by fine motor skills.
Due to the nature and goals of the project, we decided it was of ultimate necessity to work closely with two students from The Ohio State University who would serve as our users. The first student had fine motor skill disabilities due to illness while the second student’s disability was due to an injury. Our consistent communication allowed for quick insights, testing, and feedback.
From our initial conversations, two insights came to light that drove our design. 1) Disabilities are extremely unique across individuals. In order to design a successful product, the design must be made bespoke, otherwise products meant to help the masses are often unhelpful to most. 2) As students, both of our users need to take notes in class. At the time, they either had volunteers share their notes or they used their pinkie as a make-shift stylist on their iPad. “The number one inhibitor in my education is my inability to hold a pencil, and therefore, write,” our first user recalled.
We then contacted Dr. Bockbrader, MD PhD at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at OSU. With her guidance, we were able to create a list of success criteria. These were: affordable, durable, portable, easy to assemble, supportive of both hand and wrist, and free standing. We created a series of lo-fi prototypes based on this, went through multiple rounds of testing with the users, and developed our final product.
Through the use of this product, Our users were able to write in cursive for the first time in two years.