Meet Roxi, a retired school teacher who suffers from inability to control her right side due to a stroke. She often has to wait over half an hour for her caregiver to arrive so she can get properly dressed in the morning, and even then she has trouble while sitting in a wheelchair, trying to fit into shirts and jackets due to her debilitated limbs (both her right leg and right arms are quite immobile). What can we do to help her with the dressing process so that she can independently get ready in the morning and feel good about getting out? Broadly speaking, how can we apply user-centered design working closely with someone who can only use one side of her body, in order to alleviate her daily dressing needs? The idea is the Midi Rox.
We started with a prototype that wraps from the back, and uses magnetic snaps to facilitate dressing on the back and the front, so that she would not have to do the sleeves. Working hand-in-hand with Roxi, we found this to be difficult to setup, because it wasn’t clear how to lay it out on the wheelchair as a caregiver would in the morning. The magnets also tend to get caught on the wrong places on the wheelchair, especially in the back, making a simple process more complicated in practice. Going back to the drawing board, we thought of a way to remove magnets but use wrapping fabric to do two-sided dressing using one hand. The trick is to allow Roxi to drape over her head twice in succession, once for each side of the body.
To make the prototype more in tune with what Roxi would wear each day, we added sleeves and made the wrap more symmetric. Going back to Roxi, she informed us that what she really wears is not a blouse but a dress that could cover her extremities. This is because putting on pants is the most difficult part of her morning routine and she wanted to save time by putting on one-piece that took care of all her dressing needs. She also wanted the fabric to be more water-absorbent, dryer, and thinner, so we got in touch with Polartec with the help of Open Style Lab, and they ended up sponsoring the fabric. Our arm hole measurements were also not large enough in practice, so this prototype opened them up further by making pattern change iterations in 3D using CLO software to model how the garment drapes in 3D and apply changes in real time.
Going back to Roxi, we were further informed regarding her feminine coverage needs and a desire for the dress to express stylistic power. Thus we consulted with her for color, textile, and finishing considerations. Talking to the caregiver, we realized that she has to lay out the dress on Roxi’s wheelchair in the morning, and that the inside and outside layer gets confusing. Thus we decided to make the wrap fully reversible, so that Roxi can wear either side each given day. Since we had only a short amount of time with Roxi at the rehab center, we did more simulations with CLO to ensure that the pattern we end up with will work well both sitting and standing for final delivery. Then it’s presentation time, as Open Style Lab invited Roxi to our fashion showcase to spread the joy about our reversible one-handed wrap dress iteratively prototyped using principles of universal user-centered design, working hand-in-hand with our client. It is so satisfying to see Roxi smile.
Fashion Designer: Alyssa Wardrop, Occupational Therapist: Michael Tranquilli, Engineering: Ray LC.
This work was exhibited at Parsons School of Design. Our work is also featured in the press.
More info about the design process is found in our paper and final presentation.