“Ring-Aid,” the aid that helped my cousin’s developmental coordination disorder (DCD)
"The goal for my personal project was to design a writing utensil for children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD), specifically for my cousin. Instructions for use and a tutorial video would also be included. Children with DCD have tight grips which cause stress and hurt muscles. My utensil would make writing more comfortable and hopefully loosen their grips."
Towards the end of grade 9, I was assigned the Personal Project, a final culminating project assigned to students in their final year of the Middle Years Program (MYP). The purpose of this project is to allow students to explore their personal interests that results in a product or outcome.
Challenge + Source of Inspiration
The topic of the personal project remains open and the students have the freedom to pick whatever they would like to research/investigate. For my project, I decided to create and design a writing utensil for my cousin with developmental co-ordination disorder but how did I come up with this idea?
Each year my family travels to Ottawa to visit relatives and I play with my cousin, Kailyn. On one occasion, I realized that Kailyn’s hand and arm movements were very rigid and stiff. Later that year, she was diagnosed with DCD, a term used to describe children with motor difficulties and substandard coordination and results in the inability to perform certain tasks. A couple of years later, I am now taking action by designing an aid to help my cousin write. (DCD slows Kailyn’s (now age 6) motor skills, including her ability to write). In doing so, I also hope to create an aid that could possibly help others. Although my design would be created specifically for her, I hope that my product would be a starting point for others to improve upon.
The project would last over a course of approximately 10 months, where 1 week would be dedicated to the investigation portion of the project, 21 days would be dedicated to coming up with and sketching 10 distinct designs, 9 days would be dedicated to creating and building a prototype of my final design and finally, a month and a half would be dedicated to the testing, evaluation and improvement stage.
The primary research portion of my personal project consisted of collecting video recordings and observing my cousin's daily life and movements while performing certain activities. I only had 2 days to collect as much evidence as I could and when we visited on June 14th, I recorded many videos of her playing games to observe how hard she taps the screen and some videos of her doing a tracing game to see how rigid her movements are. There are also a few videos of her eating as well to observe her motor skills during meals. I also wrote some notes regarding my observations as well as a short biography about my cousin.
Unfortunately, I was unable to conduct all the primary research myself due to unforeseen circumstances. I had an allergic reaction, which hindered me from being active for approximately 7 hours. I was only able to spend a couple hours with my cousin since I was either sick lying down, or in the hospital. I was really stressed out since I lacked information about my cousin but my mom recorded the videos of my cousin playing other games on her IPad. I had to make some notes based off those videos once I returned from the hospital. To the right, you can see a video of my cousin playing a tracing game and it is evident that she struggles to make smoother movements and lacks control.
Prior to the investigation stage, I had no knowledge of designing specialized utensils or how to assist people with the disorder. The first step was to conduct research and investigate what DCD is, and then to observe Kailyn to see which parts of the body caused her rigid movements. I also researched the anatomy of writing utensils (ie. a marker, pencil and pen) and grips because I wanted to create something with interchangeable tips. It would also have to be visually attractive so that Kailyn would want to use it. I learned how to build the different utensils and considered ergonomics, something I previously researched. I also reviewed and analyzed features that help in different DCD and dyspraxia (a writing disorder) aids. (Please refer to Appendix E for research on writing utensils and DCD aids). The last thing I researched was the Stanford Design Cycle, a design process made specifically for innovation. My faculty adviser recommended that I follow this design cycle in particular since it was more suited to my project’s process. (Refer to Appendix B for Research Plan)
Overall, the research helped me make decisions on what to include in my design as well as my plan. First, the research about DCD gave me an understanding of the topic. Researching different utensils really helped me understand which parts were required to build the interchangeable tips and learning about current specialized aids for the disorder helped me determine which ergonomic considerations were best to include for my cousin, based on my observations. Lastly, the research on the Stanford Design Cycle helped me decide what steps I needed to take to design, build and finally evaluate my product.
After researching different aids and how different writing utensils function and are built, I decided to design a physical writing aid, with a possibility of interchangeable tips to help my cousin use different utensils. Although the aid would be small and look quite simple in design, I wanted people to see how difficult something as simple as picking up a pencil and writing is for someone with DCD. Seeing a child’s pain and frustration because she was unable to write was heartbreaking. I wanted to bring awareness to this problem and create something to help so that in the future, hopefully fewer children would have to go through what she has been experiencing for many years. Below, is a sample of my research on existing writing aids.
My design stage would consist of designing 10 distinct designs, which would meet 3 criteria:
Be more comfortable to write with than a pencil
Be a preferred utensil over a regular pencil
Be actually used by my cousin (she is very picky so having her actually use it would be a challenge in itself)
Below, you can see the 10 sketches of my original designs
Final Design & Prototype
After modifying and adding more details to my drawings, I decided to create a 3D model of my final design and build my final prototype. After looking at cost and the limited time I had for the testing period, I decided to build my aid primarily out of model magic and twist ties, with stickers and marker ink for decorations.
Final Design Brief
The loop at the top is an ergonomic consideration that will release tension in the lateral band. The ring provides support and comfort to the muscles as well. The ring idea came from the ring pen, one of the utensils I had previously investigated. The loop also helps the user maintain the same position f the finger (how much the finger is curved when holding the utensil).
The larger tip with indents allow for a comfortable grip as well as a guide for where fingers should be and where they should stay put.
I decided to try a different grip on the pencil that had a close resemblance to holding a regular pencil, but still different. This grip makes the index and thumb work more than they would have to in a normal pencil grip. The middle finger does not necessarily have the same function as the thumb and index finger in this grip since it will not control the hand’s movements, but instead it will provide a firmer grip by holding onto the utensil from the opposite side of the thumb, balancing out the force pushing onto the index finger from both sides.
The clamp that holds either a pencil, pen or marker is not exactly straight, in line with the tip, but instead a bit angled to the side (more specifically, the right). I noticed that when my cousin wrote, her hand was sort of angled so that the pencil would be pointing more to the left than normal. The angle of the clamp allows my cousin to still write with her hand angled the way she likes it.
The reason why the tip of the utensil covers the whole top of the finger is to hold the index finger in place. This way, without any unnecessary pressure, my cousin can still maintain a grip on the pencil. When I observed her writing before, I noticed that she put more than enough pressure on the pencil and I thought that part of it is the fact that she holds onto something too small and it feels as if it will fall out of her hands. This utensil allows you to hold it but it also holds the index finger in place, making it easier to grip compared to a pencil.
The pink and purple colours were chosen for the visual aspect (they’re my cousin’s favourite colours).
There are 3 different ordinary utensils that were also designed to be equipped to the utensil- a pencil, pen and marker all scaled down in size to fit into the clamp under the utensil. Each is removable and can be replaced with another one of the 3.
What makes this utensil unique is not only the ergonomic considerations, but the fact that it can be used as a marker, pen or pencil as well.