Assistive Products – Engineering, Design and Development

Below is the abstract of my PhD dissertation. If you’d like to get the full document in English, please follow this link.

Increasing numbers on people’s dependence (due to impairments, disabilities, medical conditions, or natural ageing decline) is a serious problem in several countries, which has been said to find an answer in the use of assistive products. Nevertheless, these potential benefits are being hindered due to poor access, rejection and abandonment of assistive products. The aim of the present thesis was to look into the underlying reasons for these phenomena by conducting research into the design of assistive products it selves, actual and potential users of assistive products, and into the system which frames the development and distribution of these products, in order to propose ways of affirmatively acting over them.

Our research involved data collection from a group of stroke victims in Portugal as a case study, analysis of existing products in the market, and experiments to understand and test courses of action aimed at tackling the four major issues identified as reasons for assistive products scarce use: lack of information, suitability, cost, and psychosocial reasons. These experiments have resulted in insights about: how the stigma process unfolds regarding assistive products; how methods from design, rehabilitation engineering, and other disciplines may be combined to design more suited assistive products; how design can act in other ways beyond product design, by designing a communication system aimed at promoting knowledge exchange between assistive product users and creators; and how courses of action could be planned to disseminate research findings, methods, and raise awareness amongst future practitioners about their social responsibility in these matters.

The research has led us to conclude design could constitute a major contribute to current research and practice within rehabilitation engineering, but that in order to do that in a proper and sustainable fashion, its methods could be optimized. We have further concluded that both design and rehabilitation engineering, too, could benefit from working with other disciplines in a transdisciplinary fashion. And that by doing so, and depending on the scenarios one encounters, their role could be required to go beyond that of developing new products to include the design of services or even systems.