Adhesive wall hook, scrap of silicone vs. $90,000 myoelectric hand
September 7, 2020 3:00 PM   Subscribe

Adaptive engineering: one woman's tools for daily living. "Cindy woke up in a room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in September 2009 in a radically altered body... Over time she found that the standard tools provided to her, even at a top-flight rehab hospital, didn’t facilitate some of the most important things she wanted to recover—how to write a thank you note, feed herself, put on makeup and jewelry, turn the pages in a picture book as she reads to her grandchildren. So Cindy started to design and build what she needed. From small hacks on her hand cream jar to repurposing cable ties for pulling out drawers and salad tongs for holding a sandwich, Cindy has embraced an everyday engineering ethic that she never thought possible."

From Kelly and Anna Pendergast at The Prepared:

"Design and engineering happens everywhere, by professionals and amateurs alike. This gallery of home-engineered adaptive tools created or repurposed by one disabled woman provides a fascinating insight into the permutations and limitations of everyday tools. The project’s co-founder Sara Hendren has a new book out (which Chuma mentioned last week) about adaptive design and the ways our bodies meet the built world — highly recommended. Hendren’s work, which deals both with individual design interventions for disabled people (like the adaptive tools above) and public interventions, has us thinking about whose responsibility it is to make the world accessible. New tech solutions like exosuits or wheelchairs that can climb stairs are often ingenious, but these put the onus on the individual to navigate a world not built for them. In many cases, better public design for accessibility can benefit everyone, making life easier for people with injuries, those pushing strollers, and beyond."
posted by cnidaria (13 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
This is fascinating. I've just read through all of them. And the entry for the myoelectric hand is a perspective I hadn't quite considered before.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:35 PM on September 7

Wow - this is just so fantastic. I am so happy for her that she was able to write in her own handwriting again.

(I wish a few of the individual pages were a little more specific - the playing card holder doesn't really say how it's made or what it's made of, although I can kind of guess. But that's a quibble.)

I really, really like their assertion that this counts, too, and their exploration (also in that manifesto) of "design for one."

And now I'm really interested in Hendren's new book.

Thank you so much for posting this, cnidaria - I hunger for stories of people finding ways to make life better for themselves and for others, so I am very grateful for this.
posted by kristi at 3:35 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this. My mom has chronic pain from a congenital condition called Dupuytren's, which sometimes makes it hard for her to grip things for extended periods of time. She also has bad sciatica in her lower back due to a poorly healed traumatic injury she endured during her 20s. I am wondering if something like this will help her get out of her car more easily if she has been driving a while (or is just having a bad pain day.) There are other tools that Cindy uses that I think my dad would benefit from using too (he has no nerves in his right hand because he shattered it when he was in college.) I don't think he's ready to have that conversation yet, though. His hand issues are a source of great shame and anger. Still, good to have possible aids in mind should he eventually become open to the idea of utilizing them.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:34 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]

cnidaria, huge, huge thanks for posting this.
posted by vers at 5:17 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]

This is really interesting, thank you for posting this.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 PM on September 7

There was a very relevant related ask recently, the answers to which describe exactly what's going on here.

A lot of these adaptations are either identical or extremely similar to ones used by motorcyclists since forever, who have to work things in the cold wearing heavy gloves and boots: right down to the cable ties on zips (when I can be bothered I replace the ones on my gear with knotted cord, but cable ties do the job), and silicone object holders. Big knobby switches, levers that make a hard physical click you can hear and feel. Soft rubber surfaces to hand hold, steel teeth on footpegs. Long, round levers, big handles. Bright unmistakeable indicator lights. The thing is that engineers and designers—because 'accessibility' is a regulatory requirement first (does this design comply with a code? if so good, we can stop designing) and human approach second, don't associate these kinds of solutions to problems with 'disability', and it's only because they're in different environments!

I can see where the manifesto is going with its emphasis on learning from design-for-one solutions ('user initiated design') but it seems like a false dichotomy to me: these solutions don't need to be pitched as virtuous, or requiring special attention, a lot of them are simply well-established solutions, and the 'ah!' moment these engineers are experiencing is just unfamiliarity with these kinds of design approaches to use.

Cable ties: is there anything they can't do?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:55 PM on September 7 [7 favorites]

Fiasco de Gama, you're making me think of how this all really falls under the umbrella of human factors in design -- so long as we take a human factors approach that embraces the existence of many different bodies and abilities.

I do technical scuba diving, and when diving (especially with dry gloves) you have to design your gear setup for your body position, the task, the reduced use of your hands, the need to avoid breathing the wrong gas at the wrong time, etc.

And then there's the classic human factors example of "pilot error" in the cockpit leading to crashes, particularly with the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. In 1942 "Chapanis [a psychologist] noticed that the flaps and landing gear had identical switches that were co-located and were operated in sequence. In the high-workload period of landing, pilots frequently retracted the gear instead of the flaps. This hardly ever occurred to pilots of other aircraft types. Chapanis fixed a small rubber wheel to the landing gear lever and a small wedge-shape to the flap lever. This kind of ‘pilot error’ almost completely disappeared."
posted by cnidaria at 6:24 PM on September 7 [5 favorites]

The reason I think of Chapanis and his tactile clues on the levers is that it's such a simple, tiny human-oriented solution that solves such a big, dire problem -- solving chronic airplane crashes due to "pilot error" with just these little bits of rubber in different shapes, so the pilots could distinguish functions by touch.
posted by cnidaria at 6:28 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]

This was fantastic reading, and I'm excited to keep dipping into it. Thank you so much!
posted by kalimac at 7:15 PM on September 7

Fiasco de Gama, you're making me think of how this all really falls under the umbrella of human factors in design -- so long as we take a human factors approach that embraces the existence of many different bodies and abilities.

I'm reminded of some off the responses to this recent AskMe that pointed out that accessibility as a goal is larger, in the end, than the disability for which it's designed. Not everyone uses a wheelchair, but if you're pushing a stroller or a dolly or a bike, you end up benefiting from the same accessibility options. Not everyone is blind, but if your glasses are fogged or there's glare from the sun or you're in another room from whatever you're watching, accessibility options help. Not everybody is deaf, but if something's delivered with a strong accent or you need to turn the sound down to avoid disturbing others, then those same services for the deaf are services for you. Not everyone has weak or unreliable grip, but if you're wearing gloves, you have many of the same needs.

The argument presented to the able-bodied for accessibility is so often predicated on the claim that "you'll need it eventually". We could easily argue just as well that "sometimes you need it even now".
posted by jackbishop at 7:16 PM on September 7 [11 favorites]

OTs are superheroes, basically.

these solutions don't need to be pitched as virtuous, or requiring special attention

There are a lot of ad-hoc solutions that work quite well, or are at least are inexpensive and easy to try on the way to getting to the best available solution.
posted by scruss at 7:23 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]

We're subjected to a lot of plain user-unfriendly design in everyday life, and could all use a little more accessibility. A particular pet peeve of mine is the move to touch screens in cars. It's not because touch screens are inherently more useful and cool and the car company wants to pamper you - it's because it's cheaper for the manufacturer to have the operations on a single screen which is the same across the whole range of equipment levels and is cheap to reconfigure. So we end up like Tesla with the settings for the wipers being in a menu somewhere and this German driver crashed and ended up in court.

That being said, really interesting FPP.
posted by Harald74 at 11:16 PM on September 7 [6 favorites]

I just finished the Hendren book-- and it was amazing. One of the best books I read this year. I came looking to find more material on metafilter and as always, it does not disappoint. Thanks for this FPP.
posted by frumiousb at 8:41 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]

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