OSL Week 1: Kickoff, Team + Client Selection

tldr: Over the summer, I’m participating in Open Style Lab, to design accessible clothing for a client with a disability. We had our kickoff, and I got to meet all of the students and select our client preferences; learned things, met team, much diversity

Over Summer 2014, I’m participating in Open Style Lab, an awesome program based at Boston which matches occupational therapists, designers, and engineers to create a clothing solution for people with disabilities. Each team of three is matched with a client, a person with a disability in the area who have specific clothing needs, depending on their disability.  Teams are given plenty of support, ranging from a variety of workshops every Saturday to expert mentors who are able to provide guidance. We are also given resources  (read: MIT Hobby Shop Access, SETC, lectures to introduce us to amazing people :D) to build our first prototype, which we will showcase at the end of the summer, both at MIT and at the Boston Science Museum. Why is this necessary? Some people with disabilities are unable to wear the same kind of clothes that able-bodied people can. Depending on their condition, they may not have the hand dexterity to use zippers or buttons,  they may not be able to fit normal sized clothes because of a prosthetic, or normal shoes may not fit their bloated feet – it depends on the individual need or condition. At this point, clothes that disabled people can wear is limited to only specific or specialized wear, and the normal fashion industry overlooks these needs.

Kickoff (6/13):

On the weekend of June 13, Open Style Lab had its kickoff. There were 24 students: 8 engineers, 8 occupational therapists, and 8 designers (though these ranged from design students to business majors). At OSL, people are really passionate about their fields of study, and everyone is coming together with one task: functional, accessible clothes.

The team members and their experiences are pretty diverse – there are students still figuring out their career paths, people long graduated, employees with full-time jobs. Their experiences in working with disabled client is also varied: from the occupational therapists who are trained to work with them every day, to people like me, who have had no previous experience. I am looking forward to working with people who have diverse skill sets, to help us create this product.

After meeting the other OSL students, we sat down to the student-client matching process. We were given the names and descriptions of the 8 clients who had an idea of what they wanted us to work on. Again, the list of clients was pretty diverse: perhaps they can’t wear long pants because they can’t put it over a lower-leg prothesis, they have bloated feet making shoe selection difficult, they can’t wear certain fabrics, or they have issues with temperature regulation. All in all, I’m astounded by the loss of independence that accompanies a disability, especially as they are limited by the dress code that society often imposes.

Team Match (6/14):

How does OSL train and lead 24 students to successfully meet with clients, design a product, and present it successfully? Every Saturday, the OSL fellows participate in workshops, designed to lead us along the process of creating our product. “Learning”  workshops are interspersed with “Making” days at the SETC (South End Technology Center), as well as a “Immerse” portion: responsibility to keep in touch with our client and show them our progress through the weeks.

The next morning, the OSL fellows filed into MIT, ready to start a workshop of prepping us to talk with our client.We got to listen to lectures, teaching us how to meet and interview clients (ethnographic techniques), how to document the process with videos and pictures, and how occupational therapists think.

The OSL staff also sorted us into our teams, based on our preference for a client. We were paired with our client, Rachelle, a graduate student researching depression at MIT who has sensory processing disorder, SPD, which means that she is unable to wear nylons. We were also matched with our team, consisting of 1 engineer (me!) as well as an occupational therapist and a designer. I got to meet Derrick, earning a masters degree at Tufts in occupational therapy, and Kathryn, our designer who is working in a nonprofit to teach entrepreneurship.

Team Rachelle: Kathryn, Designer (right); Derrick, Occupational Therapist (middle); Me (left)

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