Arthritis Simulation Gloves Help Companies Design Accessible Products

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Teri Nagel
College of Architecture
Contact Teri Nagel
404-385-2156

As the U.S. population ages, manufacturers of consumer goods are realizing that many customers may not be as nimble-fingered or sharp-sighted as they once were. To help product designers and engineers address those changing requirements, students and researchers at Georgia Tech have been developing evaluation methods and design techniques to identify and address the needs of all consumers, including those with functional limitations.

One such product is a pair of arthritis simulation gloves, designed by Industrial Design Graduate students Shelton Davis and Jeff McCloud, in tandem with researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The gloves reproduce the reduction in functional capacity experienced by persons with arthritis, and help those responsible for consumer products better understand how arthritis affects a person’s ability to grasp, pinch, turn, lift and twist objects.

“A product manager or designer can put these gloves on and attempt to open their company’s products or packaging,” explained GTRI principal research scientist Brad Fain. “If they are unable to open a product or package, then chances are high that people with moderate to severe symptoms of arthritis will also have difficulty opening it.”

Davis, who came to Tech after earning an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Southern California, joined GTRI’s electronic systems group as a student researcher while in the Master of Industrial Design Program.

“Brad [Fain] charged us to design a glove, for $50 or less, that would simulate the painful stiffness caused by arthritis,” said Davis. “We did extensive cost balancing and material analyses to keep the product marketable while achieving the right tension resistance.”

The gloves were designed to reduce a wearer’s functional ability to grasp something and either pull or rotate it by 33-50 percent. They also stiffen an individual’s finger joints and restrict the range of motion of his or her fingers. To create the finger stiffness and reduced finger strength experienced by individuals with arthritis, the gloves were designed with metal wires between layers of neoprene and other fabrics.

Davis completed the MID program in 2009 and now works as a research scientist in Georgia Tech’s Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access. Now, senior MID student Jeff McCloud is continuing the work, as organizations begin to test the gloves.

Currently, the Arthritis Foundation in the United States and Arthritis Australia are using the gloves for such educational purposes. Three companies, including Kraft Foods, are currently using the gloves in-house.

“Maxwell House always keeps our consumers’ needs in mind when designing packaging,” said Linda Roman, senior group leader for packaging strategic research at Kraft Foods. “For example, we used the gloves created by the Georgia Tech Research Institute to verify that the lid on our new instant coffee jar is accessible for those who have difficulty opening jars with regular caps. The gloves helped us evaluate the EZ Grip lid to be sure that our lid is, in fact, easy for our consumers to use.”

The gloves can be used with a variety of consumer products, including medicine bottles, beverage containers, office supplies, medical devices, vehicles, cell phones and many other consumer products. They can also be used with many different types of packaging, including clamshell packages, cardboard boxes, cereal containers and foil packages.

Read more about the Master of Industrial Design Program or the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access.