Hugo Messier / University of Montreal
A very nice investigation for an often ignored user group. We were very impressed with the prototype.
R-Mano is an orthopaedic glove that allows the user to secure an object to his hand, maintaining prehension during an activity. Specially designed for people with hand disabilities, the glove’s grip is ensured by a strap system that ties to the back of the hand. The system adjusts to different objects’ sizes, providing the user with an adaptable and very accurate fit. Moreover, the ergonomic design of this product facilitates the grouping of all fingers in one large pocket, and thus allows disabled people to put on the glove with ease in spite of limited dexterity.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Holding an object in one’s hand may seem commonplace and simple. However for many, using their hands is difficult, if not impossible, due to various health issues. Whether the manual limitations are the consequences of accidents or of normal aging, their implications vary extensively.
During my final year of study, I had the opportunity to carry out an extensive project which was inspired by my brother, Nicolas Messier. As a quadriplegic, he has limited strength and dexterity in his hands and fingers, yet still enjoys considerable strength in his arms. Like him and despite physical limitations, many handicapped persons still want to appreciate an active lifestyle and therefore look for solutions to compensate for weaknesses.
The challenge was to create a glove that could accommodate the wide range of manual limitations, while being versatile enough for a variety of activities. Hence, the product had to be easy to slip on, and to adjust. To be efficient, the mechanism needed to be simple to install, not requiring accurate movements. Lastly, it was a crucial criterion that the grip could be released quickly in case of a precarious or dangerous situation while allowing adjustment and release of the tension during the activity.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The targeted activities for the glove had to be restrained, since the problematic involved in holding objects is too vast to be covered in one glove. From the start it was clear that my first goal was to facilitate the access to sports and physical activities. My research showed that the toughness and durability required for the glove would be incompatible with the precision required for common daily activities. For example, the fabric would need to be too thick and the straps too large to manipulate accurately a fine object such as a pencil.
Furthermore, I realised that many apparatus already exist to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities partaking in light daily activities such as cooking, writing, or painting.
From the start, I wanted to create an object that would be marketed easily and offered at low costs, making it accessible to anyone. Any use of high-tech equipment was therefore eliminated. Furthermore, the range of activities for which the glove is conceived and the fragility of any electronic device was to avoid.
An ultimate guideline was set, according to research studying the habits of disabled people. These researches showed the tendency to use the mouth to hold objects more often than the average person. This highlighted the fact that the invention needed to be simple enough to use, manipulate, and adjust using the mouth as the primary tool.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Once the mandate was clearly established, I started an exhaustive research process. The first step was to understand the needs of the targeted users of the product. I had the opportunity to work closely with my tetraplegic brother, who provided relevant information about the habits and needs of people living with similar disabilities. As an employee of the Quebec Paraplegic Association, he was able to canvass the views of his colleagues, also living with disabilities. I refined my research by interviewing senior citizens and amputees to assess how the glove could satisfy their needs.
In addition to analysing the users’ needs, I had to study the different activities where the glove could be useful; all activities that require a permanent and static manual hold such as kayaking, weightlifting, or even using a mechanical tool, were considered. The activities were rearranged in sub-categories and rated by the degree of accessibility to a disabled person. This grouping pointed out where the emphasis should be place to create a relevant product. The selected activities were then analysed to understand how the hands are placed while engaging in movement, and which kind of static hold it employs. For example, it was concluded that for kayaking, the device should provide a good slip-proof grip, resistant to the water trickling down the shaft of the paddle. In addition, if the kayaker was to fall in the water, he would need access to a quick release strap, allowing him to get rid of the paddle. All those information were preciously gathered before starting to design the glove.
Following the above research, a few concepts and ideas were developed and presented to Éric Lemieux, a senior designer specialised in hockey protection. His advice, based on his knowledge of the soft goods and his comprehension of the hand articulation, was a valuable contribution to the project. With this in mind, I continued sketching to find a way to fit all elements on the small area available.
As soon that the idea materialized, I stitched mock-up versions of the concept and validated the different concepts. People were invited to wear the glove as I measured how easily it was for them to understand and use the product. Prototypes were later tested to tweak by using the product in the field. Two major aspects: the stability of the grip without any hand strength and the ease of slipping it on without dexterity. A last prototype was then created in order to perfect the design and give it a suitable look to wear in public.
Lastly, a branding concept was created. The name R-Mano stands for «real hand» and is derived from “mano”, hand in Spanish. It is also a subtle pun to the person for whom it was created, as the phonological pronunciation sounds like ‘’hermano’’, brother in Spanish. The logo itself represents a hand, folding the thumb to grab an object.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
During the process, my motivation to achieve my goal resided in the belief that the device would have a great impact on the life of many people. And even though the glove hasn’t reached the market yet, the comments of people in need who tried it confirm the inestimable value and impact of the glove. I know that such a tool can, and will, change lives.
This glove will allow many people living with disabilities to try new sports or leisure, or to simply enjoy again activities they thought were now inaccessible. More often than not, the simple lack of technical resources is enough to discourage them from trying a new activity. Although the project is mainly based on solving a technical problem, it also holds an important social dimension; by allowing more people to be autonomous in the practice of various sports, it will result in an improved quality of life for these individuals. The project has been recognized by the Industrial Designers Association of Quebec (ADIQ) as being ‘’particularly innovative’’ and having ‘’great potential’’.