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Jan 31, 2024

Improving Kyle’s quality of life


International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is celebrated on December 3rd each year. It aims to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions. The theme for this year is ‘Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world’.

Northcott strongly champions this theme. Innovation is one of our core value because we develop new ideas and solutions with creativity in anticipation of changing needs. To celebrate IDPwD this year we’d like to share Kyle’s story whose life was improved through transformative innovation.

Kyle’s frustrating situation 

Northcott resident, Kyle loves her independence, but for several years she has had difficulties getting around in her wheelchair. Due to her disability, Kyle has uncontrollable tremors that cause her to break the joystick on her chair. Her tremors also cause her to drive uncontrollably, often colliding with furniture and people in her path, injuring herself and others, as well as damaging her chair. Her customised wheelchair is constantly in need of repair, meaning she has to use alternative aids, including manual wheelchairs or power chairs not suitable for her needs.

“For Kyle to be out of her chair causes her to be upset. She can get frustrated, and it limits her access to the community,” explains Aaron, the Service Coordinator in the Northcott home where Kyle has lived for several years.

“I’d rather be able to do things but if they take [my chair] away I’m stuck,” says Kyle, adding that she finds her current joystick “hard to control”.

Having reached the end of the road in terms of the solutions his team and Kyle’s therapists could offer, Aaron turned to Northcott Innovation (NI), a subsidiary of Northcott that uses human-centred design to find solutions for the challenges faced by people with disability.

“Our priority was to aim for a higher quality of life [for Kyle] by enabling her to drive her chair more independently,” explains Samantha Frain, Executive Director of Northcott Innovation.

The solution 

With NI coordinating involvement from Kyle, the support staff in her home, and her therapists, the Rapido team was able to observe Kyle and understand the issue. This gave them the information they needed to start developing some concepts, before settling on a low-tech magnetic toggle solution. With magnets as the central feature of the joystick, the team from Rapido measured the power of Kyle’s tremors and matched it to various magnetic variations, testing prototypes internally along the way.

“We’ve developed a joystick, which intentionally comes apart when it’s overloaded,” explains Dr Michael Behrens, Principal Delivery Manager at the UTS Rapido.

“When you push the joystick harder than you’re supposed to, it breaks away and then the chair comes to rest. When everything’s settled down, you can just clip it back on again.”

After hours of testing and countless prototypes, (not to mention many months of COVID-19 lockdowns), Michael was ready to deliver a 3D printed solution to Kyle in June.

The NI team and Kyle’s support staff were on hand to see Kyle’s reaction after Michael fitted the new joystick. Despite a few false starts, Kyle quickly worked out how to control the joystick, realising it intentionally would come apart, but is easily reattached. She was soon zipping around her home independently. It was special moment for everyone involved.

What the team thought

“I’ve known Kyle a long, long time and through ups and downs. I know this issue with the wheelchair constantly gets her frustrated and quite upset. “To see something new that will give her the opportunity to go out and spend more time outside and do the things that she wants to do almost brought me to tears.” – Aaron Morgan.

“It was amazing. I’m super pleased that the solution worked for Kyle. Kyle seemed really excited, Aaron and the house team seemed excited, the NI team’s excited, Michael was excited!

“I think that we’ve got a solution that will mean Kyle can be more independent in the weeks, months, years ahead, which would be great. She can get back out in the community, get to the club, which is one of her favourite things and places to go, and live a great life.” – Samantha Frain.

It’s always great when we see a solution come together, but in particular, this time I got a great sense of satisfaction because of the vast benefit that it can have for Kyle and her quality of life.

Dr Behrens

This project was made possible thanks to a Social Impact Grant from the UTS Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, an in-kind contribution from Northcott Innovation and donations from Northcott donors.

Northcott Innovation

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