Accessibility August 2, 2021
BlueSky Designs’ products enable disabled people to enjoy fuller lives by enhancing their independence
From accessible tents to wheelchair mounts, BlueSky Designs manufacture and design a range of accessible, innovative products that enable people with disabilities to move independently. Their flexible and custom solutions make it easy for people with disabilities to do what they want to do.
A rehabilitation engineer by background, Dianne Goodwin passionately believes that technology can enable people with disabilities to enjoy their life fully and with greater independence. That conviction led her to found BlueSky Designs in 1997.
Goodwin aimed to develop products that would help disabled people reach their full potential – at work and at play. Over the years, Goodwin and the BlueSky Designs team have developed commercial products to market as well as designed custom solutions.
Goodwin’s custom mounting work led her to design concepts that would enable people who move their mounted devices independently and do more as a result. However, the companies she had worked for were not interested in developing the concept of a movable mount. “I was aware of Small Business Innovation Research grants which would support the development, so that was one of my goals in starting my own company”, she says.
Innovative products for disabled people
Along with recommending commercially available products and modifications to existing equipment, Goodwin and her team have also developed custom solutions for individuals when necessary. By working closely with people with disabilities, she identified shortcomings in the existing technology and learned what people wanted and needed.
People with disabilities are at the center of our design. In many cases, the idea has come from experiences while developing custom solutions for individuals; or from individuals who use other products, you have developed. The dialogues and info gained in user/family and therapist sessions is essential and should happen on the front end and throughout. Your customers are always offering ideas for improvements or asking for new and different products. A smart company listens and involves people with disabilities in their process throughout. – Dianne Goodwin, Founder, BlueSky Designs
Putting disabled people at the heart of design
Take the Mount’n Mover, one of BlueSky Designs’ most innovative products and a design the company is most known for. This is the only mount designed for the user to move and offers a whole new level of independence for individuals with physical disabilities. The mounts offer the ability to swap out a variety of items from speech devices, to trays, cameras, and phones. While developing the product, the team reached out to people with disabilities, their family members, assistive technology specialists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists for feedback on currently available mounts.
“We had many connections with the Minnesota assistive tech community and asked them to pull together some individuals for focus groups and prototype testing. We saw over 50 individuals with disabilities and their family members, and 50 assistive tech professionals”, says Goodwin.
Michael Sack, who uses the Dual Arm Mount’n Mover, says the mount has greatly enhanced his independence. “The mount brings my iPad to eye level and keeps it readily available for me to view or use as a communication device. While at work, I can move the arm with the nifty handle so I can roll into my workstation. In addition, the Mount’n Mover provides me the opportunity to take pictures and videos on my own.”
Writer and activist Shane Burcaw, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), has limited use of his upper extremities. The Pow!r mount designed by BlueSky Designs is fitted to his chair, enabling him to raise and lower his joystick with the push of a button. This way he can access his laptop or joystick whenever he pleases instead of having someone move it for him.
For the Freedom Tent, which won the MS Society’s 2006 DaVinci Award, BlueSky Designs collaborated with Wilderness Inquiry, which recruited individuals with mobility issues, like walkers, manual wheelchair and power wheelchair users, and people with visual and cognitive impairments to participate in prototype testing and early-stage design concepts and features. Inputs were also sought from their family members, who would be camping with them. Five different tent door designs were built for people to try out.
The solutions developed by BlueSky Designs have impacted the lives of individuals with disabilities not just in the United States but all over the world. The best part is that the products they develop are not just functional but look and feel good. “We want our customers to say, “This thing is magic!”—and they do!”, says Goodwin.
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