I haven’t got anything to wear…

fashion cat walkNot having appropriate clothing is a major social barrier for many people with disability. This is possibly one of the last barriers to participation to become visible. Academics focus on health and activities but not on the self esteem and confidence that comes from feeling well dressed, particularly on important occasions. Some specialised garments are available that are easy to put on (petal back openings) and easy to fasten (velcro), but they focus on function and lack visual appeal. 

Below is an abstract of an academic article published in Disability and Rehabilitation on this important topic. You will need institutional access to download a free copy.

Abstract:   Purpose To document apparel-related barriers faced by people with disabilities (PWD) and their families as they attempted to engage in various aspects of social participation, and explore the often invisible relationship between apparel-related barriers and disablement. Method For this qualitative research, we used focus groups to interview PWD, their caregivers and/or parents and health providers to document the experience of apparel-related barriers to community or social participation. A constructivist grounded theory approach was used to analyse interview transcripts and noted. Results Participant’s responses were grouped into categories of unmet need for adaptive apparel as well as a list of specific apparel-related barriers that participants struggled to navigate in daily life; including functional, cultural and sensory-based issues. Conclusions The lack of adequate accessible apparel for PWD exacerbated barriers to community participation and disablement, and identified the need for innovation in design, production, distribution and sale, of adaptive clothing.

From the editor: On my Churchill Fellowship study tour in 2004 I came across a Style Centre within the Disabled Living Foundation premises in Manchester. It is unlikely that funding was continued for this project. This is what I wrote in my Churchill report:

“People of short stature, wheelchair users and people with asymmetrical body shapes all have difficulty finding clothes to fit and many just give up and buy shapeless stretch fabric garments to keep themselves covered and warm. The Style Centre challenges established concepts of dull and shapeless clothes. People with a disability are not exempt from wanting to look and feel good. Mostly they dress as they do because it is too hard to get clothes to fit or to put on. I think style, fashion, and clothing are a neglected area and they will become more important as more people with a disability are included in regular schools, colleges, and workplaces. Younger people don’t want old-style floral, petal-back clothes because they are easier for carers to dress them – they want the latest styles, the same as their friends. To be able to go to the school formal wearing a great outfit is a major emotional need for a young person, as is, dressing appropriately for a job interview. There is no government funding for this – charity money has to pay for this program. Maybe that is why this seems to be the only one.

The Style Centre developed from a Russian program aimed at overcoming limb deficiency. Chernobyl, frostbite, wars and workplace accidents are the cause of limb deficiency. The Style Centre runs a five day style and fashion program where a class of five, mostly young people, design, cut and sew their own garment. They also get advice on colours and hairstyles that suit them. Many of the students have an intellectual disability, and the program does wonders for their self esteem.

The Style Centre also designs clothes for people who continually undress, selfharm, and for one who eats their clothes. Really large people find underwear impossible to buy, so they go without it. Now they can have the comfort of underwear the same as anyone else.”

Jane Bringolf


Accessible bathroom fittings

hewi dementia bathroomHewi is a German based company that has developed a range of bathroom fixtures and fittings that are accessible and good looking. Their aim is to design for comfort and convenience. For the main accessibility page go to this link.

For a washbasin with dementia in mind go to this link.  For other washbasins go to this link.

Reece omvivo essential basinFor something closer to home, Reece offers the Omvivo Essentials collection – it is shown in the last pages of the pdf catalogue.


UD for packaging

This excellent slideshow from Thailand has some great ideas for easy to use packaging using the seven principles of universal design. In practical terms, it also shows how to apply the principles to design thinking across the seven principles. Very instructive and educational, particularly for people new to the concept.


Packaging design: no regard for dexterity and strength

tetra packLift that lid, unscrew that cap, pull that straw: the challenges of hospital food and beverage packaging for the older user.

Ergonomic researchers from the University of Wollongong  provide an overview of a presentation about packaged food, particularly in hospitals. Their study revealed some obvious results briefly presented below.

Packaged food and beverages are ubiquitous in food and drink provision in all aspects of life, including hospitals. Many people are frustrated by packaging and have issues opening it.  48% of inpatients in NSW were over the age of 65 years, while for the same time, they represented 14% of the total population.  This paper outlines a series of 3 studies undertaken with well people aged 65 years and over in NSW examining their interaction with routine hospital food and beverage items.  Both quantitative (strength, dexterity, time and number of attempts to open the pack; nutritional status and intake) and qualitative (ratings of ‘openability’) data were collected. The most ‘problematic’ items were – tetra packs, cheese portions, boxed cereals, fruit cups and water bottles. Most packs required greater dexterity than strength and some packs could not be opened at all (for example, 39% of subjects could not open the cheese portion in study 1).

The overarching message from this series of 3 studies is the need for manufacturers to design products incorporating the principles of both universal (Follette et al, 1998; Farage et al, 2012) and transgenerational (Pirkl, 1991) design in order to cater for the global rapidly ageing population and improve pack ‘openability’. Packaging has an important role to play in food provision and if well designed, assist older people remain independent and well nourished.


Product design case study

design society logoIntegrtation of UD principles into early phases of product design – a case study.

This article is from the Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 15) Vol 9: User-Centred Design, Design of Socio-Technical systems, Milan, Italy, 27-30.07.15  The full paper can be downloaded for a small fee.

Abstract: Universal design (UD) is a strategy for designing societal and individual living environments. We outline how its generic guidelines need more concretization to be applicable to product development processes. Although the value of UD is widely known, its potentials are often still left unused. This paper’s contribution is to bring UD theory into product development practice by extending the processes that are currently used. Therefore, an appropriate application scenario in mobility and daily needs is proposed. It is proven that this area affects a wide range of users with different requirements and thus has great value for UD. By using the example of a shopping aid, several approaches in creativity can be used in the early phases of product design. Two exemplary methodologies are presented to demonstrate UD integration. We outline that research success can be met in multiple ways. Among other things, we show the integration of UD into systematic product design and the controllability of its value in an ex-ante and accompanying way. Within this process, the holistic view of users will be extendable, e.g. taking sociological, psychological or cultural aspects into account.


UD, social sustainability and interior design

Applying Universal Design concept in interior design to reinforce the Social dimension of Sustainability

This paper provides an overview of universal design applications in interior design promising results for a better future for social sustainability. The way in which universal design is presented and discussed has a particular clarity. For example, 

“Accessible, adaptable, transgenerational, and universal design Universal design is always accessible, but because it integrates accessibility from the beginning of the design process, it is less likely to be noticeable. Universal design sometimes employs adaptable strategies for achieving customization, but it is best when all choices are presented equally. Some universal design is transgenerational, but the approach is inclusive of more than just age-related disabilities. Universal design is sometimes adaptable and sometimes transgenerational but always accessible. Universal design, adaptable design, and transgenerational design are all subsets of accessible design. Sometimes a design can be considered to be two of these subsets, and some designs are all three. Not all accessible design is universal. Universal design is the most inclusive and least stigmatizing of the three types of accessible design because it addresses all types of human variation and accessibility is integrated into design solutions.”

The conclusion of the paper is, “The students in all schools of architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and urban design should become aware of the values, concepts and philosophy of universal design at every level of their education program, beginning from the early stages of design education to the graduate and also post-graduate level. Use techniques to create the understanding and demand of Universal Design concepts by educating the politicians of the need to create environments that encourage independence.”


Ideas for re-modelling from USA

Be the Solution: A universal design primer.

kitchen with skylight above“The most attractive designs seamlessly integrate spatial relationships with built-in features and extend the same mindful attention used with interior layouts to the design of the site, building envelope, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. For example, a ramp added to an older house facilitates entry but may also broadcast the residents’ vulnerability. A better solution consists of gently grading the site to an entry landing flush with floor level.

This article by Debra Pierce in Remodeling includes an interesting idea for an alternative to grab bars around the toilet that might suit some people who really do not want grab bars.  See also Invisia bathroom products for more ideas.