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Patterns of inconveniences among various mobility devices

Issues we found out after trying to use 5 different mobility devices

Photo of Rodney Lobo
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While I was doing the empathy exercise by using the rolling walker, my teammates were also busy trying their own. 

Some background information: We had to decide what device we got to use, so we picked paper slips with the names of the devices on them. Dawn got the stationary walker, Grace got the rollator, Cesar got the Hemi-walker, Sepehr got the cane, and I got the rolling walker. Each of us used them in different environment for a few hours. The environment included school, house, subway, restaurant, sidewalks, streets, and park. 

On February 27th, we got together to share the insights and discuss about the obstacles we faced while using these devices.

Of all these devices, the most unstable one was the Cane.

Here is the team with the devices when we grouped the patterns of inconveniences while using the mobility devices:

Image title


Issues with the devices

We noted down all the issues on post-its, and grouped the post-its into 5 categories. (Keep in mind that these are the issues we found after using them)

1. Physiological Issues

  • Pain in the neck and back after using for a over an hour
  • Palms are uncomfortable around the handles
  • Pain in the wrist after using for a relatively longer duration
  • Lifting can be difficult as some of the devices are bulky
  • Affects posture because of constant hunching while using


2. Environmental Issues

  • Difficult to use in the subway, bumpy sidewalks or streets
  • Wheeled devices can slide when walking down a slope
  • Needs more strength while using on uphills
  • Inconvenient to use during rainy or cold weather
  • Inconvenient to use in crowded spaces


3. Structural Issues

  • Difficult to fold the devices and bulky to store
  • Inconvenient while adjusting height
  • The devices have to be leaned against a wall while in folded state
  • Unstable when used on uneven surfaces
  • Difficult to carry things in bags while using the devices


4. Social Issues

  • People stare at the user
  • People can accidentally bump into you
  • Needs prior training before actually using the devices
  • You feel like you are blocking the way for others


5. Emotional Issues

  • Awkward to use (makes you feel old)
  • Designs are ugly (makes you avoid using them)
  • Frustrating to use for longer duration
  • Tiring to use
  • Takes a long time to go from one place to another
  • Always have to stay alert so that you do not bump into something/someone or accidentally fall down because you lost balance
  • Makes you uncomfortable while using in the public


What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

There are so many issues with the existing mobility devices. Is there a way we can improve the stability of the mobility devices and at the same time, reduce the emotional issues when it comes to using them?

Tell us about your work experience:

Student of New York University (Industrial Engineering), passionate about Human Centered Design, Design for America of NYU member; working with a team to build a new assistive device for the elderly.

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Photo of Lynette Evans

You're right, Rodney. Walkers with some sort of telescoping legs that could be easily adjusted (longer back legs, shorter front legs for going upstairs; longer front legs, shorter back legs for going downstairs) -- perhaps automatically adjusted by smart sensors -- might be one answer. (Similarly those of us who wear high heeled shoes -- which are good for climbing hills but not descending same -- could use shoes with telescoping heels when traversing San Francisco's hills.)

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