As the population ages, manufacturers of consumer goods are realising that many customers may not be as nimble fingered as they once were. To help product designers address the issue, researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have been developing ways to identify and address the needs of such consumers.
GTRI’s latest product is a pair of arthritis-simulation gloves, which reproduce the reduction in functional capacity experienced by persons with arthritis. The gloves help those responsible for designing consumer products better understand how arthritis affects a person’s ability to grasp, pinch, turn, lift and twist objects.
’A product manager or designer can put these gloves on and attempt to open their company’s products or packaging,’ explained Brad Fain, GTRI principal research scientist. ’If they are unable to open a product or package, then chances are high that people with moderate to severe symptoms of arthritis will also have difficulty opening it.’
The gloves can be used with a variety of consumer products, including medicine bottles, beverage containers, office supplies, medical devices, vehicles and mobile phones. They can also be used with many different types of packaging, including clamshell packages, cardboard boxes, cereal containers and foil packages.
Three companies, including Kraft Foods, are currently using the gloves in-house.
’Maxwell House always keeps our consumers’ needs in mind when designing packaging,’ said Linda Roman, senior group leader for packaging strategic research at Kraft Foods. ’For example, we used the gloves created by the Georgia Tech Research Institute to verify that the lid on our new instant-coffee jar is accessible for those who have difficulty opening jars with regular caps. The gloves helped us evaluate the EZ Grip lid to be sure that our lid is, in fact, easy for our consumers to use.’
The gloves were designed to reduce a wearer’s functional ability to grasp something and either pull or rotate it by 33-50 per cent. They also stiffen an individual’s finger joints and restrict the range of motion of his or her fingers. To create the finger stiffness and reduced finger strength experienced by individuals with arthritis, the gloves were designed with metal wires between layers of neoprene and other fabrics.
In addition to identifying ease-of-use issues with products, the gloves are also intended to raise awareness about issues faced by people with disabilities and to support programmes focused on ease of use in design. Currently, the Arthritis Foundation in the US and Arthritis Australia are using the gloves for such educational purposes.
The gloves can be purchased alone or as part of GTRI’s disability-awareness kit, which also includes a low-vision simulation kit, a finger-strength simulation kit and a CD training programme.
The finger-strength simulation kit consists of finger exercises that are calibrated to certain amounts of force recommended for packaging and the training programme teaches individuals how to use the gloves.
The low-vision simulation kit contains a pair of glasses that simulate common visual disabilities, including various degrees of cataracts, visual-acuity problems, contrast-sensitivity issues and age-related macular degeneration.
’A product manager can put the glasses on and observe products to see if he or she can read important things written in small print, such as instructions or an expiration date,’ added Fain.