Using the knowledge of design for the masses while targeting real and basic problems of most of the people is powerful. With a very simple solution, the right team and good intentions, industrial designers can change the world in one of the most magical ways I can imagine. In many cases, answering a real need can start with a solution for disability but becomes a universal product.
Hello, my name is Tamar and I'm an Industrial designer, entrepreneur, military medic and a 3D designer. I am the founder of Cassit studio specializes in design for people with disabilities, BoP* and sustainable design. During the last 6 years I worked with therapists and engineers to create solutions for people with disabilities. My Vision is to create inclusion of people with disabilities in society and enable them to live an active and joyful lifestyle.
*BoP = Base of the Pyramid, is the largest but poorest socio-economic group, the 4 billion people who generally live in the developing world. Some translate it as Bottom of the Pyramid, but we refer them as a Base from the understanding that as with any structure we are leaning on the foundations.
I traveled with Cassit Splints to Kenya in October 2015, conducted focus groups with medical personnel and met local partners in Nairobi and West Kenya. I visited in 5 major hospitals, 15 clinics, NGO's, churches and schools, and learned from therapists, health services officials, activists and people with disabilities.
The next post describes parts of my research and conclusions, and focuses on the collaboration between therapists and designers.
Background Most people with disabilities today live in the poor areas of the developing world and left without solutions. They are suffering from deterioration in physical condition and mental spirit, lose ability to earn income, walk around freely, perform activities, use their hands, and be a part of society. Their therapists are located too far, blocked behind inaccessible transportation means and high travel and therapy costs. In design schools and studies of the developed world, we may conclude that in order to design for the developing world we need to live there for a considerable period of time. It's not always true. While learning about the developing world in Pears challenge program for global innovation during 2015, I found out that if you are designing for a person's need and not for an abstract idea or for market trends, you might be suitable for BoP. Bottom line: people are just people, and particularly in healthcare – the body reacts the same to diseases, traumas and accidents all over the world. People, who want to be loved, live in dignity and be able to care for themselves and their loved-ones, just like anyone else.
Healthcare – Accessibility and Affordability Up to 80% of people with disabilities live in rural areas (source: UN Enable). They face inaccessible transportation, lack of available solutions or basic healthcare services. In addition, the current solutions are very expensive: for example, a single hand-splints cost in Nairobi range from $30-$70, not including travel costs which are also very high. Conversely, the monthly income per person in Kenya in 2014, was in average 106$ (source: The World Bank). Accessibility to health services also means allowing people to obtain the medical devices they need for their health and daily activities. Disabilities are leading to exclusion from employment, education, public services and society. This exclusion leads to poverty, and in a vicious circle, poverty leads to more disability. To overcome the access challenges, few mobile clinics travel around the distant and poor areas, but their resources are highly limited and they are rare.
A client with a paralyzed hand (as a result of polio), tries Cassit splint in the rural areas of western Kenya
Healthcare - Prevention of ROM deterioration for children ROM means Range Of Motion, and when the ROM becomes short it is irreversible, causing a person to be unable to use his hands for everyday activities. In developing countries, C.P. (Cerebral Palsy) is very common among children, leading to shortening of ROM, limb disabilities and therefore a need for medical splints. Almost all children with hands disabilities we met in Kenya result from this birth-related disease which can be prevented, but also improved while using medical splints. One of the facts that excite me the most, is that our splints can allow a child to grow up with abilities in his hands and by that change his future. Providing those orthopedic hand supports is crucial for children because their joints are still soft and the splints can preserve their abilities.
Awareness and stigmatization People with disabilities in the developing world in particular, are sometimes perceived as a burden on their families, in addition to the common superstitious about disabilities. There is a lack of awareness to orthopedic services that can help children and young people with disabilities. Parents to children with disabilities often hide them in the houses from embarrassment, believing they are cursed. Most families are not aware of the disability's medical cause and the possibilities that exist such as medical splints. In fact, the children who tried our splints in Kibera slums in Nairobi insisted on keeping them after finding out (with joy) it allows them use their hands:
To witness with your own eyes the immediate improvement in the hand functionality while using our splint, is a very powerful tool to raise awareness.
Empowering Industrial Designers for the community While visiting an Industrial Design Department in one of the largest Universities in Kenya, I found out they are far from understanding what social design is. They think of people with disabilities as beggars (in their own words) and they fail to know the co-existence of do good and do well. It was very important for me to explain them why designers should be encouraged to design for their own communities and understand how to address a real need, hands on. There is a revival in recent years of designing products for people with disabilities in the developed world, and with time I believe (and will try) it will arrive to the developing world as well. I wish to build and strengthen a community of industrial designers who will be able to design more products for people with disabilities. I wish to have workshops and training of designers in order help them enter this broad field more easily and be able to understand the financial possibilities available for them, alongside the social impact and the satisfaction of designing for all people. Those industrial designers should be exposed in practice to the needs of people with disabilities living in their community and to become the future designers group specializing in inclusive design.
Inclusive Design: Squeezer/ Seasoning tool for palm training , Cassit Studio
Expose therapist to more customers and more creative solutions One of the therapist's greatest challenges, all over the world, is the "know-how" and tools to produce better solutions. The offered solutions are often inefficient, expensive, limited and involve tiresome and time consuming process with low quality materials. While making splints, the therapist can cut any shape he wants, but from a low quality material, using an outdated method, and what he might experience as freedom to create is actually very limiting if he wants to improve the product or the work process. Although the therapist is familiar with a variety of needs, he has no real tools to fully answer most of them and he often has to work with improvised solutions. Furthermore, in many places in Kenya I saw the most basic materials needed to prepare assistive devices is nowhere to be found.
An occupational therapist examines Cassit splint on his hand in Kenya
Designers know materials, technology and UX, and they come with open mind for exciting ideas. Joint working can solve many challenges to the therapist.
Design and Therapy
In a world of necessity and reality, there is need to reconsider what are the real needs and abilities of the customers, and combine skills of therapy and industrial design.
I believe that therapists and designers can highly benefit if they learn how to work together: the designer need to base his design brief on the therapist's instructions and work with him during the development and customization of the solution, and the therapist can use the designer's skills with materials, technology, production processes and creative ideas. They can also analyze together the usage scenario and think of innovative ways to approach a challenge.
While the therapist usually comes from a world of medicine and a strict methodology, the designer comes from the world of endless possibilities. Together they can balance each other but also break the boundaries. They may converge in the action analysis, the aim for extensive care/ experience, the connection between body and mind and the need for accuracy. As people, it is likely that one of the most important common goals they share is do good.
In Cassit studio we have practical experience in creating tailor made solutions while collaboration with therapists. In addition we own a line of orthopedic affordable hand splints and a line of universal cookware. The field's terminology which we focuses on called ADL = Activities of Daily Living, such as independent feeding, bathing, dressing, grooming, work, homemaking and leisure.
Our solutions are designed to provide durable long lasting products suitable for low income families of the developing world. In addition we do volunteering work, giving consultation and creating awareness in the field of inclusion and design for people with disabilities, elderly and BoP.
Suzanna, our Studio's occupational therapist, examines a Cassit splint for a client with C.P.
The power of industrial design
Being an industrial designer is powerful if you use the tools you have for the right reasons. Using the knowledge of design for the masses while targeting real and basic problems of most of the people is powerful. With very simple solutions, the right team and good intentions, industrial designers can change the world in one of the most magical ways I can imagine. There are only few things that make me more excited than a product designed for a person and answer a real personal need in affordable cost. In many cases, answering a real need can start with a solution for disability but becomes a universal product. I wonder who will invent the next tooth pick, the next Band-Aid, the next water purifier. The possibilities are endless.
I am enthusiastic about inclusion. I support the idea of inclusive education, inclusive activities and a general approach that people are people no matter where they live or what they have - disability is not inability. Whether someone is using eyeglasses or a wheelchair – people are never perfect and those differences are what makes us unique. I wish to reach the population that is hardly taken into consideration and constitute from the world's majority at the base of the pyramid, because all people deserve healthcare services and live their lives with self-dignity. I think of people with disabilities as just people, and therefore I am not addressing them with mercy – but with respect and a source for inspiration.
This amazing video was sent to me from my friend Maria, the founder of The Action Foundation in Kenya. They took this video in Kibera slums of Nairobi with an incisive question about inclusion: