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Designing funky products for the disabled community

11 April 2024

As a manifesting carrier of Becker muscular dystrophy, Michelle has used her experience of living with a disability to start making gadgets and tools to help the disabled community. She discusses being a design student at university, the products she’s created so far, and her future career plans.

When I started university, I was studying Visual Communication. I created a Zine − a self-published collection of works − about how people cope with disability and pain through the arts. But I soon realised I wanted to make physical things that could help the disabled community. I’m now in my second year of studying Product and Furniture Design at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury.

Carriers of muscular dystrophy can have high levels of disability too

It’s a common misunderstanding that being a carrier of muscular dystrophy means you could just pass the condition onto your child. But if you’re a manifesting carrier, like me, you can have a lot of symptoms similar to those with the condition.

I’m a manifesting carrier of Becker muscular dystrophy. This affects my ability to walk, and I can’t stand for long, so I use a wheelchair. I also struggle with my arm strength, so I drop things quite a lot. Of course, this comes with challenges, but I try to look at my disability as an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

My dad also has Becker, and growing up I saw how frustrating it was for him that he couldn’t use many standard products. As I got older, I thought: I could create things for you that help make your life easier.

These situations have made me see how non inclusive the world is. I’ve bought so many products I haven’t been able to use because of my disability. You just keep buying things until you find one that works for you, and before you know it you’ve spent a fortune. I realised there’s no reason I can’t create more fit for purpose products that are practical and easy to use.

Creating products for the disabled community

In all our projects, I focus on making portable, multipurpose, and funky products.

So often things designed for disabled people look clinical. But we like fashionable and cool products just as much as everyone else.

So far, I’ve designed the ‘Hold on 2’ which is a multipurpose grip tool. It allows people to hold things more easily, like a wooden spoon, and open items easier, such as a jar. A lot of people struggle to hold objects like these tight enough to use them, so the ‘Hold on 2’ is fitted and moulded to the hand to remove this issue. I’m planning to get the product made through injection moulding and would love to get some funding to try it out with different focus groups.

The other product I’ve designed is ‘The Wayble’ which I’ve given a slogan of ‘it’s more than just a table’. It’s mainly for wheelchair users who like art, photography and crafting. The foldable table has LED lights around the sides and easily clips to your footplates or the side of your wheelchair. You then screw on your camera and adjust the height of the table like a tripod. When you’re finished, The Wayble folds up and fits into your bag.

My current project is about food packaging and transportation. I’m really excited about this topic as there’s so many ways that food containers could be made more accessible for disabled people.

My career goals

I’m loving being at university. We have students on the course from all around the world which means we get to learn about products that already exist in their countries and can take inspiration from them. My plan is to do a masters degree in London after this. When I graduate, I hope to set up my own social enterprise doing accessibility audits at venues and educational establishments. I’d also like to design my own gadgets that make life easier for creative people who are part of the disabled community. The money made from this work would go back into the community group I have set up called Access, Arts and Adventures, which runs workshops for disabled members of the local community.

I’m very conscious of basing my products around people’s needs rather than my own assumptions. If you would like to see my work and be involved in the products I create, you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

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