These ingenious home products are rewriting the rulebook for the ones with special needs

Here are 6 designers who have carved a niche in universal furniture, product and interior design by bringing the differently-abled onto a level-playing field.

Envision a folding, wall-mounted contraption that masquerades as an on-demand shower seat to fill in for your wheelchair. Or a cup—bolstered by a base, coaster and lid—to guide your shaky arthritic hand from table to tongue. In a world geared towards conventional ability and accessibility, a clutch of emerging, innovative designers are catalysing a gentle revolution in inclusive design, introducing adaptive furniture, product and interior design concepts for the differently-abled.

Here are 6 designers who have invented game-changing, accessible design products and reimagined the special needs category across the globe.

Pill by Nicola Golfari

The Lifetools Collection by Italian designer Nicola Golfari is overarched by the principles of Design for All, a design ethos that advocates respect for diversity and accessibility for every member of society. The curated collection of household objects feature an innovative folding wall-mounted seat called Pill, designed as an ad-hoc perch for use in the shower or anywhere else. The seat becomes a charming wall embellishment when not in use, taking the form of a vibrant silicone disc. During use, its roto-translating feature offers patrons a sturdy grip, allowing them to adjust their position safely and comfortably. The universal design is ideal for people with or without disabilities, making it a practical addition for every home.

Chewing Drill by Cheng Guo

Royal College of Art graduate Cheng Guo was inspired to create a range of mouth-controlled functional machines, christened The Mouth Factory, to celebrate the capability and versatility of the mouth. Controlled by basic mouth undulations, the range features a chewing drill, teeth lathe, tongue extruder, mouth breath rotational mould, and vacuum form machines. Of particular note, is the chewing drill, a wondrous drilling instrument mounted on a headpiece and activated by making a chewing movement to gyrate the drill bit. The device employs specific machinery that converts human biting force, which ranges between 13-35 kilograms, to torque. The chuck is designed to accommodate an array of bits including a drill bit, screwdriver bit, sander bit and milling cutter.

Intelligent Hand by Gabriele Meldaikyte

Accessibility in the kitchen lies at the heart of London-based designer Gabriele Meldaikyte’s canon. The design maven’s all-in-one kitchen work station, known as the Intelligent Hand, is rooted in a futuristic one-handed mechanism for people with a fracture, permanent disability or partial paralysis on one side. The specialised culinary tool simplifies food preparation and encourages people with handicaps to be self-reliant. Suited equally for left-handed and right-handed use, the product features 7 one-handed configurations including a food cutter, bread holder, tube opener, fruit and vegetable cutter and peeler, egg holder, grater, and food box. The device is underpinned by several non-slip rubber elements that hold it in place. In addition, with detachable and washable parts, it is easy to dismantle, clean and dry.

Transitions by Mickael Boulay

Seeded in scientific physiotherapy techniques, Transitions, a line of sinewy cutlery by French designer Mickael Boulay, is an ode to those with impaired motor skills. The products, modelled on organic human movements, aid in motor skill development by using specific angles to strengthen dexterity at various points in the arm. The cutlery series is composed of progressive sets of instruments—from easy-to-grasp objects to purposeful designs—that hone mindfulness and agility. Transitions is not a curative system that eliminates motor handicaps, but a therapeutic tool that stimulates and enhances motor skills in day-to-day life.

Edgy Furniture by Tamara Petrovic and Garner Oh

In an endeavour to ease their son’s balance and motor skills challenges, designer couple Tamara Petrovic and Garner Oh lovingly crafted a range of adaptive home living products called Super Special. The products are aimed at augmenting their home living environment without imposing an institutional aesthetic. As part of their Super Special line, the pair designed a trifecta of mix-and-match furniture pieces called Edgy, comprising a low table for floor-based dining; L-shaped chairs for lounging; and modular cubes as tables or seats. The hallmark of Edgy is its soft and curved forms, designed to cushion trips and tumbles. So confident is the pair of their design, they assert “it’s impossible to cut yourself on it. It will probably break before you break.”

Ability Cup by Andy Yu

Industrial designer Andy Yu’s Ability Cup bears the distinguished insignia of being one of the first exclusive home living products for people with arthritis or Parkinson’s. In 2017, Yu created a prototype cup, with a weighted base and a built-in coaster, for people with shaky grips and weak arms. The cup is a thoughtful work of art, with a tapered body for an enhanced grip, and a shock-absorbing rubber base to prevent breakage or damage from falls. The cup’s lid is engineered to prevent spills and attenuate the flow of liquid.

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