I had the opportunity to work with Hannah, a bright and curious 9-year old born with cerebral palsy, and develop a custom wheel chair tray with her. Because Hannah doesn't have full motor control of her arms and is confined to a wheelchair, it's difficult for her to have productive learning sessions when material isn't easily displayed at comfortable distances and learning objects are often strewn from her work surface.
Together with Hannah, her physical therapist and mother, we prototyped several cardboard work surface heights and sizes to find one that was most ergonomic for Hannah's learning sessions. Through these learning sessions, we discovered that it was important to constrain Hannah's often flailing arms, helping her to guide her arm muscular range. But, I also noticed that often, Hannah's sister wanted to share in Hannah's learning process and felt excluded with large arm barriers. I discovered that I could build Plexiglas windows into these arm baffles to both include Hannah's sister and provide Hannah with clear arm constraints.
It was equally important create a easel for Hannah's communication devices and other learning material. Through visits with Hannah I learned that though this easel was extremely useful in learning situations, it often became a physical barrier for relationships with others when not in use. I designed a version of the easel that was easily removable and could quickly transition between learning and social modes.
After several iterations and wonderful visits with Hannah and her family on the upper East Side, together we created a final wheel chair tray design that was ergonomic, inclusive, and flexible. And because the wheelchair tray was made from cardboard, it was also easy to modify for Hannah's mother and her physical therapist. The low-tech but highly impactful medium of cardboard empowered both me as a designer and Hannah's community to take an active role in modifying and customizing Hannah's everyday learning and social environment. Hannah and her family were thrilled.