How could we design employment opportunities for wheelchair users in low-resource settings?
Aimed at tackling the ‘disability-poverty cycle’ in developing regions of the world, this project was conducted in collaboration with a charity in Sierra Leone, and with support from the SafariSeat wheelchair design team. The charity’s brief was to design a detachable trailer that would enable users of an all-terrain wheelchair to undertake various sales and trade roles, from transporting and displaying merchandise to vending and restocking goods independently. The design project was approached from the perspectives of both user experience and engineering, with a focus on localised manufacture and maintenance in a rural, low-resource African setting.
The design was undertaken by Year 3 BEng Industrial Design student, Sifan Yan, at the University of Liverpool with supervision from Dr Farnaz Nickpour and Cara Shaw (SafariSeat CTO), over an eight-month period, following the design process outlined below:
Informed by the product design specification, the user requirement specification and the student’s literature review, a user interaction map (UIM) was created to outline the three levels of interaction which the design aimed to facilitate, including the corresponding stakeholders, services, people, and cargo.
The practical and functional significance of the final design depended on the extent to which each level and dimension of the UMI map was considered and facilitated through the design process:
Level 1 – The product will help enable users to get a job, which requires consideration of the nature of interactions with various stakeholders, cargo, and tasks.
Level 2 – The product will improve users’ quality of life, which requires consideration of access to various services and possible extreme scenarios such as transporting unusually shaped or heavy cargo.
Level 3 – The product will enhance users’ social life and their sense of dignity, which requires consideration of potential opportunities and relationships including new hobbies and employment possibilities.
The project resulted in an adaptable cart attachment for the SafariSeat wheelchair, aptly named the SafariCart. The design included a customisable chassis and frame, a built-in tow hitch connector, and a bespoke transport rack for baked goods as requested by the charity (who intend to use it for vending goods from a bakery).
The design will undergo further usability testing in the intended context of use once prototyping, safety testing and design optimisation for manufacture have all been completed in the Kenyan workshop. Feedback from this in-context user testing will inform any final alterations to the design before batch production commences.
SafariCart is an example of sustainable approach to engineering; it can be manufactured in low resource regions of the world with basic tooling, using locally available material and workforce. From an engineering perspective, finite element analysis and full-scale functionality testing were used to theoretically and empirically verify the load-bearing performance of the design.
SafariCart is also an example of a human-centred approach to design; aimed at altering social perceptions of disabled people in developing regions of the world, whilst delivering significant value to the wheelchair user; generating their own income through unlocking access to employment and a life beyond the confines of their own home. From a user experience perspective, rapid prototyping, task scenarios and user testing on principle-proving prototypes were used to verify the usability of the design.
Upon successful completion of the aforementioned processes, a batch of SafariSeat wheelchairs and SafariCart sets will be sent over to the charity bakery in Sierra Leone, where several wheelchair users will be employed to sell baked goods. It is hoped that this employment opportunity will improve their quality of life, expand their social circles and help them to live with greater dignity.
Design Project Thesis – Designing a Wheelchair Attachment to Transport Merchandise and Cargo in Less Resourced Settings
Download Project Poster – SafariCart Project Overview
SafariSeat Website – http://www.safariseat.org/
For further information about this project, please contact Cara Shaw