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Designing for All

White House showcases inclusive design, assistive technology, and prosthetics.

Today, the White House hosted a Design For All Showcase that celebrated inclusive design, assistive technology, and prosthetics by recognizing the work and experiences of designers, engineers, models, and companies striving to help people live happier, healthier lives.

The rise of the maker movement and the democratization of low-cost tools and technologies for design and fabrication are empowering individuals including students, parents, engineers, designers, and manufacturers to create custom assistive technologies and inclusive fashion. At the same time, high-tech innovation is allowing for the creation of prosthetics and other assistive technology, like a mind-controlled prosthetic limb that seems like content for science fiction.  These many different types of assistive technology and adaptive equipment create greater opportunity for people with disabilities to live independently and participate in the classroom, workplace and in their communities, from a low-tech magnifying glass to a high-tech motorized wheelchair. 

Today’s event recognized people creating and using innovative technology and design to break down barriers, reduce stigma, and improve the quality of life for Americans with disabilities.

Government Announcements

The Federal government has long played a leading role in the research, creation, and promotion of assistive technology, prosthetics, and inclusive design. From the United States Artificial Limb Laboratory, which was established in 1917 with the goal to give every amputee soldier a "modern limb,” to supporting the development of the foundations of inclusive accessible personal computing, the Federal government’s involvement in promoting innovation that fosters greater opportunities for inclusion, self-advocacy, and empowerment of people with disabilities has paved the way for new and emerging developments. Below are some new announcements from the Federal government in this space:

  • Donating clothing to veterans in need. Downs Designs Dreams (DDD) is a non-profit organization that makes adaptive clothing, specially designed for people with disabilities. DDD reached out to the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center to facilitate a donation of 50 pairs of jeans. Building off of this success, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that it has partnered with DDD to bring their No Buttons No Zippers No Hassles line of jeans to other veterans in need. To date, DDD has donated more than 150 pairs of jeans. 
  • Creating a National Resource Center for Self-Advocacy: The Administration on Community Living (ACL) at the Department of Health and Human Services announced the first-ever grant to establish a National Resource Center for Self-Advocacy to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) for enhancing their voice on issues important to their well-being and daily life. Self Advocates Becoming Empowered will lead the effort in partnership with several organizations as part of a $2 million, five-year cooperative agreement funded by the ACL’s Administration on Disabilities as an Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Project of National Significance.

Establishing a Five Year Rehabilitation Research Agenda

The National Institutes of Health announced the launch of their Research Plan on Rehabilitation to provide a road map for future research to assist people with disabilities overcome temporary or permanent limitations that affect their functioning and participation in their families and communities. The comprehensive plan outlines six priority areas and includes investigating new approaches to assisted technology in the home, expanding the field of medical rehabilitation to recruit scientists and innovators and analyzing the science and genetic components of recovery to better understand why some people are better able to recover after injury, while others require more rigorous rehabilitation.

  • 3D Veterans Bootcamp. Last week, VA Center for Innovation announced the Showcase of the 3D Veterans Bootcamp, which is supported by its collaboration with America Makes, 3D Veterans, and the South Texas VA Healthcare System in San Antonio. The 3D Veterans Bootcamp is a training program for Veterans that provides technical training in 3D Printing and design skills to get you from idea to market quickly. The goal is to train Veterans on this emerging, 21st century skill to help them find employment in this growing industry or start their own companies.

Private Sector Announcements

To ensure that the United States can benefit from the strengths and skills of all Americans and become as inclusive as possible takes more than government action. At today’s event, numerous non-profits and private companies announced commitments to build inclusive design into more aspects of American life – from classrooms to medical equipment, from blue jeans to dress pants.

  • Expanding Inclusive Design Education. Open Style Lab announced that it will establish an inclusive design curriculum at the Parsons School of Design. The course, Open Style Lab Collab, is housed in the MFA Design & Technology program at the School of Art, Media, and Technology. The course will match 15 BFA Fashion students and MFA Design & Technology students with three clients who have a disability. Occupational and physical therapists from NYU will provide mentorship to the students throughout the semester.
  • Collaborative concept scoliosis brace. UNYQ introduced their UNYQ Align™ concept scoliosis brace designed by Studio Bitoniti for UNYQ. UNYQ delivers personalized prosthetics and orthotics that improve quality of life and celebrate the user’s authenticity fashionably. The embedded Intel Curie™ Module is helping users reach treatment goals, while the stylish, customized, and lightweight design can give them more confidence and increases willingness to wear the brace.
  • New ABL Denim Line. ABL Denim announced the launch of a new clothing line to calm anxiety in children with Sensory Processing Disorder, addressing the needs of 80% of children with Autism and ADHD.  This technology is currently being tested for use by Veterans with PTSD in addition to those with sensory issues. The new line will be available starting in 2017 and will include other products for amputees and wheelchair users.
  • Adaptive technology and inclusive dress shirts. A MagnaReady shirt looks like any other dress shirt, but within each shirt are powerful magnets that link together for a secure closure, eliminating the need for struggling with buttons. Today, MagnaReady and PVH Corp announced that this fall they will offer Van Heusen dress shirts that incorporate this adaptive technology. The MagnaClick shirts will be available in select stores and on digital commerce sites, marking the first time major retailers will carry adaptive clothing in stores, a major milestone for a national brand and retailers alike.

Erin Szulman is Policy Advisor to the Chief of Staff in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Maria Town is Senior Associate Director for Public Engagement in the White House Office of Public Engagement