Student-designed Wheelchair Accessories Provide Style and Convenience

Product and industrial design students at Brunel University in London have partnered with Blue Badge Style, a style website and app for people with disabilities, to produce stylish and functional wheelchair accessories. The 22 submitted designs range from wheelchair bags to waterproof wheelchair covers and cocktail and tablet holders.

Fiona Jarvis, founder of Blue Badge Style, challenged the students participating in the “Style My Chair” wheelchair design competition to address four main areas in wheelchair accessory design: secure and accessible bags, practical cocktail holders, comfortable and stylish wheelchairs, and trendy waterproof wheelchair covers. Other designs included a phone charger powered by wheeling, a tablet holder and a place for wheelchair users to put a poster or board during a demonstration.

The students’ designs were put to public vote in December 2014 and three winners were announced in February. Blue Badge Style will create prototypes of the three winners’ designs: The first-place design winner is customizable wheelchair covers that come in various colors and designs; in second place is a bag for the back of a wheelchair with a side entry point for security and accessibility; and the third-place winner is a cup holder that can be used for various types and sizes of cups.

Easy to access, difficult to steal

Final-year design students India Pappalardo-Strachan and Emily Tulloh, designed a bag for wheelchair users named the BackBackPack, which is the second-place winner in the competition. To gain the perspective of those who use wheelchairs, Tulloh and Pappalardo-Strachan met with two people who have had spinal cord injuries and use wheelchairs. “When we were talking to them, we noticed that they had bags on the outside of their wheelchairs,” Pappalardo-Strachan said. “We asked them if it worried them to always have their bag on the outside of their wheelchair all the time.”

The BackBackPack offers a side entry point for wheelchair users.

The BackBackPack offers a side entry point for wheelchair users.

Images: Pappalardo-Strachan I. and Tulloh E. Brunel University

One of the wheelchair users, Robin, remarked to Tulloh and Pappalardo-Strachan: “My life is on the back of my seat, and I do not want anyone to be able to access my things.” This comment sparked the idea for the students’ design. “It outlined the real problem, and we wanted our design to try and solve it,” Pappalardo-Strachan said.

Tulloh and Pappalardo-Strachan designed a bag with a side entry point. This feature not only provides security, but convenience so that wheelchair users can reach around the side of their chair to access their wallet or purse. “One thing we noticed was that Robin and Lindsey (the other wheelchair user) took their backpacks off and put them on their knee to unzip it and take out their purse,” Pappalardo-Strachan said. “We thought it would be so much easier if it was just a side pocket where they could reach in and grab their purse or wallet.”

India Pappalardo-Strachan

India Pappalardo-Strachan

Emily Tulloh

Emily Tulloh

Because style was also an important part of the competition, Tulloh and Pappalardo-Strachan designed three bags: a brown leather bag for everyday use, a sporty design and a quilted leather design that could be used in the evening.

Tulloh added that one of the most rewarding parts of the competition was seeing how their design could impact the lives of wheelchair users.

“Robin actually told us that we changed the way he organizes his bag, and he now uses his side pockets and keeps things in a pocket internally,” she said. “Just seeing that we have changed his routine was pretty amazing.”

Designed for the person, not the chair

Alex Millington

Alex Millington

Alex Millington, also a final-year product design student at Brunel University, designed a raincoat for wheelchair users.

“They do not make products for people in wheelchairs to keep them dry, but rather, they make products to keep the wheelchairs dry,” Millington said. “The fact is, there is a person in there. My project was to make a raincoat and design it specifically for people who sit down in a wheelchair for a long time and who have limited mobility.”

The BackBackPack

Images: Pappalardo-Strachan I. and Tulloh E. Brunel University

When deciding on his design, Millington found many of the products available for wheelchair users to use in the rain looked like plastic covers that might be used on a bike but not on a person as a coat. Once he decided to design a raincoat, he began with raincoats that people wear when bicycling and he adapted many of the features from those coats to be more suitable for someone sitting in a wheelchair.

The key features of Millington’s design include a more relaxed fit with extra room in the shoulders for when the person is rolling their wheelchair and a cuff to keep the person’s hands dry and clean when using a tire on their wheelchair.

On the lower part of the raincoat, instead of a front zipper, the zipper runs down the side of the person’s legs so that they can wrap the coat around their legs and hands. With these features, a wheelchair user could “easily get a longer coat past the bottom of their back. The goal was to actually have a single garment that can get around their top half and bottom half as well without ever having to stand up to put the coat on,” Millington said.

“There are so many people who would benefit from products that cater to disabled people and are fashionable,” Millington said. “My design represents more than just a coat. It is what should be a change in thinking that leads to more products for those with disabilities.” – by Tina DiMarcantonio


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.