When designer Barbara Alink heard her mother remark, “Over my dead body will I ever use one of those,” when passing a group of people using mobility scooters, Alink wanted to know why. Alink saw the devices as merely a means for getting around, but to her mother they were a sign of being seen as incompetent, dependent, pitied.
In a world where many, many people need to use mobility aids, either due to aging or for a myriad of other reasons, the idea of people refusing to use these tools due to social stigma upset Alick. “I realized that walking aids can actually emphasize a disability,” she says in a talk at TEDxEastVan. “Right there, right then I decided to design a walking aid for my mom that even she would use.”
Her first step was to talk with people who used mobility aids — especially wheelchairs and scooters — in order to better understand the experience of using them. The same issues came up again and again, Alick says: these aids made users feel dismissed, ignored, humiliated. It was hard to be part of conversations when they were sitting; they had trouble hugging their friends and family or holding hands while companions walked. These aids drew unwanted attention, often in the form of pity.
Alink decided to create a bright yellow device that looks more like a bike than a tool for accessibility. “The device needed to be cool, so cool that people would love to use it — so cool that the user would feel proud and happy. And, ultimately, it needed to be so cool that it would overcome the discomfort of other people without a disability.”
To learn more, watch Alink’s whole talk below: