1. Discovery

While at the Academy of Art University, I explored the idea of adaptive use products, specifically for the realm of dance, mostly because I love music and dance, and believe in their healing powers. 

This project was developed in partnership and with many thanks to the talented dance teacher Debbie Sternbach and her students at Dance Moves Me in Emeryville and Walnut Creek, CA.

How might we provide access to artistic movement for those with limited mobility?

Why Parkinson's Disease?

There are a million reasons why humans might have limited mobility. Choosing Parkinson's Disease allowed access to an established network of therapies and classes that already used dance as therapy.

Movement as "treatment"

Exercise cannot reverse PD, but it may prevent it from progressing. Dance, as well as Tai Chi, cycling, yoga and boxing are said to have neurological benefits. 

User centered research

I attended weekly therapeutic dance classes, interviewed students, and observed challenges. The main finding: living with a movement disorder like PD is a day by day experience. Someone with PD never knows if today will be a "good day" (meaning less tremors) or not. 

Within the context of the class

The dance class is (a hopefully encouraging) moment within someone's day. It is a short and focused period of artistic movement. How might design provide a better experience there?

The brief

A set of challenges emerged, which I formed into my "brief" below. Inclusion, both physically and emotionally was an important part. 

2. Creation

With the dance class, we explored what kinds of objects or tools would create inclusion.

It quickly became clear dance is primarily a standing activity, yet those with PD have difficulty standing with stability for long periods. I explored how to make a tool that allows for sitting and standing.

Height adjustability, stability, storage-- these were all quite mechanical situations, and complex. The class and its users did not need something overly complicated to use. I changed tack and worked to simplify the design into a chair with an extended back.

Functional testing reminded me those with less mobility and strength may benefit from armrests (a get-up and go tool) but once you are seated, you need space for arm movements and rotational movement. I explored a "hide-away" arm-rest design.

Final design

A sit-stand tool that provides grips for standing movements and a stable base for sitting movements. Also designed to be stackable (dance class easy storage).

3. Implementation

Proposed design could be milled in pieces and "fitted together" to form the completed piece. The hand-held parts would be birch wood for a smooth and warm touch, while the seat would padded vinyl for easy and comfortable movement and cleaning.

4. Reflection

1. Confidence and strong movement go hand in hand. It takes confidence to dance, no matter what your mobility level! Therefore, any tools or aids used must reflect that confidence in function and form. 

2. Solo design projects are limited; design teams are the secret sauce. While I enjoyed the multiple facets of this academic project, I much prefer working with a team. If I could do this over, I would partner with engineers, researchers, marketers, photographers, and other furniture designers to create an even richer and more robust project!

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