Though assistive devices are designed for a specific function, that’s not really a reason for them to lack form when it comes to looks. And yet, historically, aesthetic appeal has not really been part of the equation when it comes to mobility aids.
However, as the disability market worldwide consists of approximately 1.3 billion consumers – around 1 in 5 people – with the assistive tech market projected to be worth around $32 billion by 2026, and near to £274 bn spending power of people with disabilities in the UK, it’s an area that looks only set to grow.
For example, there’s little doubt that prosthetic limbs have evolved dramatically as technology advances. Previously, form would have compromised function or vice versa, but the tide is turning as developers try to provide more intuitive and multi-purpose prosthetics.
Limbitless Solutions, based in Florida develops custom 3D-printed bionic arms for children which are operated by the child flexing the muscles in their residual limb, which creates a voltage signal which then processes into motion within the device. Apart from some fixings and fasteners, the arm’s structure is 3-D printed, and the cosmetic elements are provided by molten plastic wrapped around the arm using a vacuum thermoforming machine.
Limbitless president Albert Manero says:
“We learned that children with prosthetics really wanted to be able to stand out and express themselves through their bionic arms…they can go in and choose from a list of colour palettes and view the model in 3D on a computer, and then go and select any area and change the colour with a colour wheel, to really bring out the expression of the arm to match what they’re feeling. Children’s expression and identity develop over time, so it makes sense that the bionic arm has to go through that same process with them.”
And yet, inevitably, this technology is very expensive and so developing simpler, more practical and low-cost devices should also be high on the agenda to assist people with upper limb disabilities.
Eyra is another US-based company which makes universal homewares for everyone regardless of age or disability, which are designed to improve mobility and combine aesthetics and functionality with design and quality.
There is clearly a growing market for aesthetically pleasing assistive devices, able to combine form and function in their design.