Read time: 3.5 minutes
It is amazing how much of an impact the smallest of injuries can have on our lives and the way we interact with our surroundings.
Earlier this year my husband broke his little finger. Well, snapped it actually. Sword fighting. Yes, sword fighting. In a full suit of Medieval armour. I know. Odd. But he seems to enjoy it so who am I to judge? OK, let’s judge just a little, he’s pretty weird 🙂 Check this video out if you want to see what he was training for…
The following month, I twisted my ankle playing netball.
These may seem like pretty small injuries, but as someone who is interested in design, I was fascinated by the impact they had on the way we were able to (or more specifically – not able to) do the things we needed to or enjoyed.
Washing was the biggie for me. Our shower is over the bath and for me, getting in and out of the bathtub to wash became a painfully scary experience. To get out I had to choose between balancing on my bad ankle on a very slippery surface before high-kicking over the high sides, or standing on my more stable leg but then landing hard on the bad one due to the differential in height between in and out. Sitting on the side of the bath and then swinging my legs over was what I ended up doing, though balancing on this wafer thin slippery plastic was far from ideal either.
Once in the bath I had nowhere to sit while I washed, so found myself balancing on one foot a lot. Not great considering there wasn’t anything useful to hold onto either. The overall effect was to change my lovely bath from relaxing spa to trough of fear and pain.
It made me wonder that given there are countless variations of toilet paper holders, towel rails, bins and even toilet brushes, why something to hold onto that doesn’t make your home look like a hospital isn’t a more regular occurrence in our shops or form part of our standard bathroom suites.
For my husband with his broken finger, tying his shoelaces became an arduous and frustrating task. Opening jars just became outright impossible.
Here he is attempting to use his feet (!) to get into a jar of jam. This was pretty hilarious for me to watch, I have to admit, but this is no joke for a lot of people – this is everyday life. And lots of people face a lot bigger problems than not having any jam on their toast; the way we design our products and spaces can actually disable us from carrying out many of our everyday tasks independently.
Imagine for a moment we had received these injuries when we were older and our range of movement, reactions, balance and coordination may not be at their peak. Or if the broken finger and twisted ankle had been a more serious injury or a more long-term impairment. And let’s face it, all are possible. Truth is, we are all getting older and no one is immune to illness or injury.
Sure, there are temporary fixes you can add on. Bath boards for example are super useful, but notoriously medical looking. Jar openers help us do exactly that, though perhaps have a touch of forceps about them. What unites all of these is that they are sticking plasters on other products that have been designed without much thought of the wide range of real people who will actually use them. A bath holds water brilliantly, yes, but also keeps a huge part of the population out and makes it dangerous or difficult for many others. Jars keep food fresh but just create unnecessary food prisons for lots of us.
We need to start thinking a little differently and understand that life includes ageing, changes, illness and injury to lesser or greater degrees. This is not a morbid or a scary thought, but a fact of life. The result will be that we will design more positively, beautifully and sustainably for our different and changing bodies, as well as make life a little bit nicer for us all along the way. Otherwise one day we might find our homes change from places of comfort and enjoyment to dangerous and frustrating obstacle courses.
As luck would have it, we had just rented a new flat before we injured ourselves and so we were right in the middle of considering layout, fixtures, furniture and products for our new home. It meant that I made myself (and somewhat unwittingly and probably unethically my husband too) guinea pigs for testing different ideas in our real life to see if they would help us, as well as look good in our new home. A grab rail, a cork bath step, a push-button kettle, easy open storage containers were just some of the tweaks I made to our living arrangements during this time. I even came up with a groundbreaking new technique to help me make better design decisions called…’Could my gran use it?’ which you can use too.
Turns out that while we wait for a new generation of designers to come up with better homes and products, there is a surprising amount we can each do on a very home-scale that can make our own living spaces a lot friendlier and more flexible for ourselves and our guests, now and in the future. All of them useful, none of them dull.
The exciting thing is that we have kept every single one of these adaptations even after we have healed. Nothing to do with impairment – they have just made things a little easier and nicer for us more generally.
I am now hooked on making our home one that will suit us aged 83, but right now at 33, and seeing what impact this has on the look and feel of our new flat. Hop over to my other blogs to read about some of the things we have already done, our continuing adventure into making our house more inclusive, and a whole load more practical information and inspiration to help you make your home fit for a lifetime too.
Hope you enjoyed reading! Drop me a line or comment below if you have any thoughts or questions about what I’m up to. Love hearing from you 🙂