Little Black Bag
A customized, inclusive wheelchair accessory in form of a ‘Little Black Bag’ for Colleen Roche
*How might we design for one person?
Established in 2014, Open Style Lab (OSL) is 501(c)3 organization dedicated to creating functional wearable solutions for people of all abilities without compromising on style.
OSL’s mission is “for all people to have access to style, regardless of cognitive and physical ability.”
A quick look at the process and our final solution
Colleen Roche is an activist, health educator and always on the move. In last fifteen years, she’s trained thousands on topics pertaining to emergency preparedness, domestic violence and abuse. She’s travels throughout New Jersey to deliver training sessions. She is an avid photographer & is a member of an integrated dance company. She is born with cerebral palsy and is an active power chair user.
The medical model of assistive technology is designed to provide the cure rather than care. There is a constant tug of war between form and function. Yet with assistive technology function almost always supersedes form and assumes ‘invisibility’ though unobtrusive design.
The team believed this practice feeds into the disability taboo that plagues our society. It points towards a narrow-minded set of beliefs & practices - ableism. It extends beyond literal discriminatory acts (intentional or not) to the way our culture views the concept of disability.
There are a myriad of products on the market to accessorize power chairs, however, most are bulky, static, not portable or easily removed. Moreover, these devices are seldom sleek or low profile, never stylish and almost always look like medical devices - Colleen Roche (OSL client)
Power Chair Ecosystem
Colleen is an active wheelchair user and has travelled approximately 1500 mi in her power chair, Isaac (F3 Corpus- Permobile) over the last two years. Functionally Colleen is non-ambulatory, her chair is a secondary skeleton her most visible and valuable accessory and the place she spends 14+ hours of each day.
We distilled the insights to design comfortable wheelchair storage accessories that accommodate Colleen’s range of motion & style choices.
Portable table that can be folded and stored in the backpack (the table height is often unsuitable for Colleen as she is seated in her power-chair).
Modular backpack where the main larger part remains hooked while the modules can be flipped on to her shoulder.
It was difficult to access the modules as they were not in her range of motion.
The table added to the overall weight.
Shifted the backpack modules to the bottom (within her range of motion) with an additional purpose of utilizing the pockets of negative space from the wheelchair back.
Added a small side bag attachment to the handle of the chair. The bag can be flipped onto her lap to get an easy access.
Though it was easy to reach these modules, it was difficult to put them back at the exact same place securely. Any retractable mechanics, would only make the bag heavier
The side could be flipped easily and she could access the bag using the bottom zip, yet flipping seemed to be the one extra step in the process.
We asked strangers to find the wallet in the bag prototype we had designed. This helped us understand the problems associated with the same. We timed the action and mapped it against the time Colleen took to get her wallet out of the bag.
To avoid flipping, this prototype could fit under the armrest without increasing the overall footprint of the wheelchair. It could be accessed easily from the top.
Extra pockets were added for segregation quick access.
The velcro on the top was used to secure the bag onto the armrest. The rings provided an easy grip for opening/ closing the zip.
The size of the bag worked well however it was really hard to operate the zip at the corner. Colleen needed to tug at it, hold it in a particular angle in order to use it.
The contents inside the bag were disorganized. The phone needed a more secure pocket.
Changed the opening structure of our bag to avoid the corner zip. Added a straight zip at the top and made an accordion fold for an easy opening.
Pockets were added on the inside with a zipped outer pocket. The zip ended with loops that Colleen could hold during the action. Double velcro on the top ensured reinforcement.
The bag worked structurally, yet it needed some finer resizing.
The zip needed to be smoother.
Intersection of assistive and mainstream design principles can inspire and definitely bolster a product. As designers, makers and culture creators this common ground is an opportunity to create a dialogue about the topic of ‘disability’ while subtly working to counter the attitudinal barriers revolving around the same to ensure an equitable future for all.
The final OSL showcase was held at Parsons School of Design on December 12, 2019