In May 2016 we held a Toggle-a- thon where our team of talented designers, engineers and occupational therapists gathered together to create customised wheelchair joystick toggles to help five people drive their wheelchairs. It was a huge success! We ended up with five incredibly unique designs built specially for the needs of each individual. And that was all in a day’s work.
The day started with a frenetic pace and energy as people were rushing around setting up 3D printers, organising work areas, storing all the food and most importantly, boiling the water for tea and coffee.
By 10 am we were ready for our debrief. Mel and Johan made the formal introductions and set the tone for the rest of the day. Our focus was on the user and the user alone. It’s a design practice known as human-centered design. Where the design or idea begins around the needs of the people we’re designing for. They’re the inspiration for every idea we generate and the results are judged on whether the design answers their needs.
The team was already in high spirits and we couldn’t hide our excitement when our friends with disabilities began to arrive. A collection of industry experts sat around each person and spent some serious time getting to know each individual and their needs. The engineers were curious about every little detail asking a lot of questions surrounding factors such as:
- simple /complex
- novel /serious
- height and position
- comfort levels
- tastes / preferences
- general activities
- strength and dexterity
We watched and observed the finer movements as each person negotiated their way around our brutal outdoor obstacle course consisting of foldable chairs and pot holes revealing details on the grip during different situations. Other tests even included a barbeque spatula but let’s not go there…
Our engineers gained insights that allowed them to immediately develop ideas on the spot. Using plasticine they began modelling different prototypes directly on the joystick shaft, consulting with each user and occupational therapist for instant feedback.
Once we got to a concept that the user felt happy with, the 3D printers immediately went to work. The rapid prototyping meant we could create the product on the spot, test it and then make any necessary adjustments based on the user’s feedback. Some designs were amended while others were an immediate hit.
We look at each individual case below.
Case Study: Dan
Dan’s a 20-year-old guy who brought along the fine weather to match his sunny disposition. He loves to listen to music and be on the computer when he’s not working at Fight Chance Australia. During our chat, we learnt that the current toggle had a tendency to fall off during regular use. The crew discussed whether a grub screw to hold the toggle in place might do the job and whether the toggle’s ability to rothttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkO_sVyYeZ8&t=6sate freely was a benefit or a hindrance. He had a pretty strong grip (being the strapping young man that he is). And yet he was also very dexterous in his ability to negotiate around tight obstacles. The demonstrations showed how he had two different grips depending on the situation. One was a casual hold when he was cruising from one point to another. The other employed his fingertips at the top of the joystick for when his motion needed to be precise.
Tom our brilliant young engineer worked up a T-bar design with special tip situated on top. The T-bar allowed for a more relaxed hold while the tip meant that he could still use his fingertips to manoeuvre his wheelchair. We got feedback within minutes of the prototype being printed. From watching his movements and his comments Tom reprinted a revised version. The new design was shorter for more comfort the tip on the top was removed and the colour changed from bright orange to Dan’s favourite colour – blue. Honestly Tom, what were you thinking!?
We’re going to monitor this one over the coming weeks and see whether the toggle needs to rotate while it’s fixed in place or not and whether Dan prefers the T-bar with the tip or the one without. He was really happy with the colour choice though and had a ball during the whole process.
Case Study: Natalia
Natalia is 38 from Prestons. She loves to shop and have lunch with her friends at the local pub. From our chats with Nat, we found that she was having issues with the thickness and position of her toggle grip. She was also affected by the process of having to wait for lengthy periods for one size- fits all toggle that wasn’t comfortable.
With that in mind Cameron, our designer/3D printer expert (who travelled all the way from Wollongong!) went to work, crafting up an interesting mushroom style design out of plasticine with specifically flattened areas that made pushing a lot easier. It was the first design fresh off the 3D printers coming moments after the initial discussions with Natalia. She tested it and found the wide mushroom shaped worked really well though the height was a bit high. Cameron’s solution was to make it flatter and sit lower on the joystick shaft.
The design was slick. She felt comfortable with the revised design and really enjoyed the process of being involved with the team of experts from conception to production. Well, Nat we really enjoyed having you as our head of design!
Case Study: Nicole
Nicole, an avid Parramatta Eels fan came along with her family and friends to tackle some very challenging issues (no pun intended). With her grip style, we heard that she would quite often pull the toggle off the shaft during general use. It also needed to be tough and durable.
We had our resident genius Kin on the case. Using the power of geometric shapes he created very simple yet very robust cone shaped solution. The cone design meant that as Nicole would tighten her grip it would force her hand up while pushing the cone down. A sphere was also added to the tip that acted as a tactile grip and locator for Nicole to place her hand. Kin took measurements of the joystick to determine how low the toggle could go and bevelled the base to ensure full motion and increased strength.
We tested the strength of the 3D printed model by throwing Johan on top of it. It sustained minimal damage demonstrating the durability of this simple design. If it can withstand Johan it can withstand anything. We’ll find out soon enough whether we’re kicking goals with the conical shape. That pun was intended.
Case Study: Darren
Darren was an absolute livewire. This action adventure was the life of the party. He kept us all entertained throughout the day and way he drove his wheelchair around would even make Vin Diesel strap on a seat belt. He knew how to have fun. The toggle grip that he had was too small and the boring design just didn’t cater to his highly active lifestyle. We knew just the right person to design his toggle – Ade.
To suit his pistol-style, helicopter pilot grip Ade created a toggle handle inspired by an old Atari joystick. It had a big square handle that leant forward for comfort. A base was also attached so that he could rest his hand.
It was an instant hit. Darren was happy with the result and looked comfortable holding the joystick resting his thumb on the flat spot created for it. All these needs now is a trigger on the top that fires laser beams. Don’t worry Darren, Ade’s taking care of that.
We couldn’t possibly forget about Marusha, our pioneer. We had developed the first toggle for her and today after several weeks of trial we adjusted her fork design so it was just right. We lengthened the channel where her finger would rest and applied a material called Sugaru to the areas of contact. This material when cured would become a durable rubbery grip that will reduce slippage and add comfort.
During the day we had another team working on the user experience and packaging. Spearheaded by Ade they consulted with occupational therapists and other industry professionals on the literal and emotional journey a potential customer might experience. From developing a need for this product to discovering Ability Mate, to the points of contact, the consultation, the final product and results we wanted to achieve with customer satisfaction. They discussed what kits should be sent out. One solution is to have a cheap cost effective measuring kit sent out to gather information on the customer. The second more premium kit would then be sent out with the final product including instruction manuals and additional parts. This stage is ongoing and dependent on the toggles that was created on the day so watch this space for further developments.
During the day we had another team working on the user experience and packaging. Spearheaded by Ade they consulted with occupational therapists and other industry professionals on the literal and emotional journey a potential customer might experience. From developing a need for this product to discovering Ability Mate, to the points of contact, the consultation, the final product and results we wanted to achieve with customer satisfaction. They discussed what kits should be sent out. One solution is to have a cheap cost effective measuring kit sent out to gather information on the customer. The second more premium kit would then be sent out with the final product including instruction manuals and additional parts. This stage is ongoing and dependent on the toggles that were created on the day so watch this space for further developments.