What else are we using from the 16th century?….
In 1595, Spain’s aging King Phillip II rolled around in an early prototype of the wheelchair. The 68-year-old monarch suffered from gout, and someone in his court attached wheels to a reclining chair so servants could push him around the palace.
Over the last 420 years, the wheelchair has undergone enormous innovation but its basic premise has remained constant. It’s still a chair on wheels. Toyota says it’s time to rethink this paradigm, and the car company’s foundation is investing $4 million to kickstart the movement.
Launched in November 2017, Toyota Foundation’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge gives designers a chance to “to break away from the metaphor that assistive technology is about some sort of chair and some sort of wheels on it,” says August de los Reyes, a Google UX director who champions Toyota’s global design challenge.
In partnership with the UK-based innovation non-profit Nesta, Toyota’s four-year-old charity arm is pouring resources into rethinking the chair used by an estimated 65 million people around the world, after learning that more than a third of wheelchair-bound users are unable to work because of it. The recent ComRes/British Polling Council survey also suggests that 90% of wheelchair users say that they experience some form of physical pain while working.
De los Reyes says we’ve been stuck with clunky, uncomfortable wheelchairs for so long because of the so-called “change function principle”: “If the pain threshold of adopting a new technology is greater than the pain points of the status quo, then it doesn’t matter how good the solution is,” he explains. It’s why we often settle for passable, “good enough” design.