Designs for accessibility can be rethought with 3D printing so something as personal as a pregnancy test can stay private.
3D printing has been used for years now to rethink design. Much of this falls into industrial thinking, where structures can be made stronger with now-possible complex lattice infills or components can be consolidated to single-part products. But a very important usage for this technology lies in accessible design. Whether an easier-to-operate door opener, stylus for using touchscreen devices, home goods like can openers, or other products or adapters that simply make life more user-friendly, customized and specialized designs help those with physical impairments to live their lives.
Many of these adaptive devices have been created with visual impairment in mind, as physical designs allow for Braille or other tactile reading that might otherwise have been limited to the written word. Maps, game pieces, and many other tactile designs can be quickly 3D printed, producing accessible designs for those whose primary ‘seeing’ sense isn’t their eyes.
A few years ago, 3D printed ultrasounds debuted to some fanfare. Pregnancy and blindness can be a difficult combination, as these parents-to-be don’t have the same experiences as the fully sighted. Seeing a fetus for the first time is an incredible experience; I cried the first time I saw my son’s heartbeat flickering away during our first ultrasound. Not being able to look at the screen changes that moment, though. Holding a 3D printed physical representation of a baby, though, lets parents-to-be touch every contour of their child’s face, learning it before birth.
And a new design finally takes that sort of very personal moment even earlier into the parenthood journey. Design For Everyone, out of the UK, recently debuted a prototype for a 3D printed tactile pregnancy test.
Taking a pregnancy test is a strange experience — and it’s one many people with a uterus go through in their lives. Again speaking from experience, it’s also a deeply personal undertaking. Reproductive choices are up to each individual, each family, and should be fully their own business. Trying to conceive is a fraught time, and often one that has a lot of testing (ovulation, pregnancy, perhaps fertility). The day I got my positive pregnancy test, I took a day off work and laid in bed, marvelling; I didn’t even tell my husband until he was home from work at the end of the day. For a few strange and awe-filled hours, I was the only person in the world who knew that I was pregnant. It was quite a day, and one I’ll never forget.
For those unable to take or read standard home pregnancy tests, the experience has been something very different.
“The problem with having a disability is that you have to sacrifice your privacy,” said Danielle, who participated in the Design For Everyone research. “I’ve taken a pregnancy test in the past and it’s been negative and the person who has been reading it has said, ‘Oh it’s probably just as well though isn’t it?’”
Design For Everyone cites research from Mintel that “5.6 million tests are sold every year in the UK, and 58% of those who have children or are hoping to have them have taken a pregnancy test, making it one of the most frequently used and recognisable pieces of home medical equipment there is.” They also note, though, that there are several “bugbears” for current home pregnancy test usability. They name in particular:
- Packaging – Fiddly and not accessibly designed, making opening and unwrapping the tests difficult.
- Instructions – Small font size made instructions extremely hard to read. While diagrams helped, black and white line drawings could be made easier to interpret with more contrast.
- Colour – Predominantly white designs made it difficult for women to identify which way the test should be held and where the result would be found.
- Size and shape – Small absorbent tips make taking the test more difficult, with many women feeling they weren’t sure if they had got sufficient urine onto it.
So they set five key principles in designing an accessible alternative: independent, reassured, affordable, suited, and subtle. These would ensure that a new design would be one that would be accurate, discreet, and able to be performed by the potentially-expectant without aid.
The team created a touching video tracking the development and what it means to those using the new prototype test:
The Design For Everyone pregnancy test prototype CAD data is available here.
Inclusive design requires that thought go into the design. A simple place to start is: who can use it? If the answer isn’t “anyone”, perhaps it’s time to rethink why that is, and what would open up the usage for something that could be more universal.
Applications like this are abounding in the 3D printing world — and I can’t wait to see even more. Personalization, accessibility, and inclusivity can be readily made using a 3D printer. It just takes a bit of thought.