Universal Materiality : wearable interaction design and computer aided process for accessible wearable solutions
According to the United Nations (2015), more than 46% of people aged 60 and above are disabled, with more than 250 million experiencing moderate to severe disability. This number is expected to grow from 901 million in 2015 to 1.4 billion in 2030. It is clear from the data that ageing and disability are pressing global issues.
Clothing plays an important role in promoting and protecting the rights of older people with disabilities and facilitating their full participation in society. The clothing currently available for their needs does not meet the growing demand. Gwodz, Nielsen, Gupta and Gentry’s (2017) study revealed a positive relationship between style orientation and personal well-being. Unmet clothing needs prevent people with disabilities from actively participating in important life experiences and negatively affect their overall well-being (Kabel, Dimka and McBee-Black, 2017). There is also a tendency to only focus on practical functionality and thus neglect the relationship between style that is reflective of the wearer’s identity and well-being. The first challenge in clothing development and production concerns the disconnect between the design process and perceived needs of end users. The second challenge concerns how the integration of materials and production processes can contribute to the user’s physical and functional needs. These challenges underscores the need to strengthen the relationship between designers and users.
Advances in technologies for interactive textiles and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) processes offer customisable functions with the tactile familiarity of everyday textiles. The interactive characteristics of such materials offer design opportunities to adapt to the evolving needs of older people with disabilities. Current universal clothing options are often limited to conventional materials and processes that are passive and confined to traditional production methods.
This study was based on a research collaboration between the Institute of Textiles & Clothing (ITC), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPolyU) Open Style Lab (OSL) and Parsons School of Design, New York, USA. The study involved exploring interdisciplinary smart materials at HKPolyU from March to June 2018. It also concerned the Open Style Lab’s 10-week clothing design and development summer program at The New School, Parsons School of Design, involving multidisciplinary practitioners (fashion designers, textiles designers, engineers and occupational therapists) with participants from the Riverside Premier Rehabilitation and Healing Centre, New York, USA, in June-August 2018.
The collaborative study addressed the gaps in current research by investigating an interdisciplinary co-design process for universal apparel design. It examined how smart textiles and digital processes can address the specific needs of users, namely people with disabilities and older people. Without the use of technology designed to help older adults and people with disabilities, this population may choose personal caregivers or move to assisted living facilities to access care on designated premises to overcome difficulties in performing activities of daily living (Jun & Liao, 2018). This study examined the uses and design applications of technology clothing development with long-term residents at Riverside Rehab.