Aesthetics, Design & Disability Towards a framework for collaborative design of assistive devices

    The current default methodology for designing assistive devices has a medical and functional focus and does not take into consideration the emotional and psychological impacts of design and aesthetics. This research uses an analytical autoethnography methodology to explore my experiences with occupational therapy, design and as an individual with a disability. I provide a theoretical proposal for approaching issues related to design, disability and occupational therapy that has a focus on awareness of the cultural construction of stigma and how aesthetics can be used to create a positive emotional response.

    Assistive devices are the combination of design and disability. An ideal design solution for assistive device is perceived as one that allows an individual with a disability to perform tasks with equal effectiveness and ease as a person without a disability regardless of aesthetics. This design ideal ignores the psychological and emotional impact of using an assistive device, these impacts occur due to the aesthetics of the designed object not suiting the social environment in which it is being used.

    Through a literary study and a deconstruction of my own personal experiences I put forward a proposal for an alternative design structure involving the cooperation between three separate groups of people; individuals with disabilities, medical professionals, and industry professionals. The current structure for designing and making assistive devices involves an unequal partnership between an individual with a disability and a medical professional where the individual with a disability describes their wants and needs and the occupational therapist provides practical based solutions. I propose a change in the role of the occupational therapist from provider to co-worker allowing them to contribute their and medical expertise in collaboration with industry professionals, designers and people with disabilities creating a holistic approach to design.

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