Technology and design can open a world of possibilities for parents with disabilities. If you like to read more on for instance innovations that can favor the experience of expecting parents with a visual impairment, or on technology that allows parents with a hearing impairment to monitor the safety of their baby, or on the design of carriers that can make parents with an impaired mobility to explore the world with their little one, than this blog is your place to be.
Parenting with a visual impairment
Three dimensional printing has been around for some years now, and has started to leave its mark in the field of prenatal care. This is not restricted to purely medical uses but also extends to the field of the experiences of parents-to-be. Every midwife knows what seeing their child for the first time through an ultrasound does to expecting couples. Parents with a visual impairment however, have to do without this important experience, and this is where 3D printing can be of help. It allows parents with a visual impairment to use their tactile sense to ‘see’ their unborn child for the first time.
A Polish company, IN UTERO 3D, catches the eye with an initiative called ‘Waiting without Barriers’. Visually impaired parents from all over the world can get a 3D print of their ultrasound for relatively low costs. All they need to do is email an ultrasound and some proof of their visual impairment. For just € 1,-, Polish parents get their print delivered at home, while parents abroad receive a file that is ready to be printed.
If you are a midwife and would like to know how to give couples with a visual impairment the best care possible, keep an eye on this blog. In 2014, I developed an online course in Dutch, which I hope to convert to an updated, interactive English version fairly soon.
Parenting with a hearing impairment
We all know that crying is baby’s way of communicating. But what if you can’t hear your babies cry? Technology and design have tried to bridge that limitation by making baby monitors suitable for parents with an hearing impairment. The monitor will warn parents about their baby’s activity through light flashes, vibration, or both. Current monitors are usually of such a high quality that other devices around the house will not interfere with their working. Quite a few companies offer them and you can read some ‘best buy’ reviews here and here.
A more revolutionary baby monitor for parents with a hearing impairment is the award winning wearable baby monitor ‘Babble Band’ by Summer Infant. The base unit is put near the baby while the parent wears a soft, adjustable wristband with the monitor, which has a range of somewhat less than 250 meters. When the baby cries, a signal is sent to the band and depending on the mode in use, the parent is notified by an audio and visual signal, vibration and visual signal or just a visual signal. The wristband can be wirelessly charged through the base unit. Some reviews mention the short battery life span (8 hours) and there is some discussion about the Babble Band’s sensitivity to background noise. You can find the product video here.
Another recent development in the field of baby monitors is the MonBaby. It is a small device shaped as a button that is attached to the baby’s clothing and is able to detect whether the baby rolls to his stomach or stops breathing. The device sends alerts to an app that parents can download to their smartphone. Unfortunately, so far it does not offer visual or tactile alerts, but when we asked, MonBaby said that they may include this in later versions of the button. Also, in their promo video, MonBaby states that the system works best when your baby is in the same room as your smartphone, which seems to limit its use.
Parenting from a wheelchair
Design and technology are being used more and more to overcome borders in parenting with a mobility impairment. A seemingly simple activity like going for a stroll with your toddler can be a quite an expedition for parents who are paraplegic or bound to a wheelchair for other reasons. Wheelchair bounded people are inventive in finding solutions and have a striking ability to cope independently, especially when parenting (click here for an inside view of the life of a parent raising children from a wheelchair), but some good technology and design can still make their life more comfortable and increase their mobility. Below, I will shortly explore some recent innovations in this field. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that most of these inventions are still in the design or testing phase and are not available on the market yet.
On a blog with tips and tricks for people with spinal cord injuries, the Swedish designed Combi-stroller is being recommended. The stroller is connected to the side of the wheelchair and allows the user to sit near the toddler. The Combi-stroller can be adjusted to the height of the wheelchair so that parent and toddler are at the same height, which not only favours communication but also the comfort of the user when putting the child in the stroller or taking it out. The Combi-stroller comes with an adjustable handle and is best topped up with a soft fabric carrier. The Emmaljunga models are regularly updated so it might take some time to figure out which model has all the functionalities mentioned. The Combi-stroller is also pretty pricy.
Another Swedish design in this field comes from the hand of Cindy Sjoblom and is called the Cursum Stroller, developed in 2012. The Cursum is a stroller with swivel wheels and adjustable height that can be used in tandem with the wheelchair, which will be pushing the stroller in front of it forward. It seems that the product is not yet available on the market and there is also no price indication. A Greece based company in wheelchairs and related products offers a baby carrier with nearly the same name on their website. Their ‘Cursum Baby’ is of a comparable idea but a different design. However, they provide no product specifications nor an indication of the price.
In 2014, Ahren Janiyan designed the ‘Unity Baby Seat’, a babyseat for wheelchair users. The seat is attached to the front of the wheelchair and is adjustable. It allows face-to-face interaction and gives parents more comfort as they no longer need to carry their children on their lap. I can’t really sort out the age range for this design, but looking at the seat it does not seem favorable for small babies who can't sit up independently and who don’t have good head control yet.
In 2015, an American teenager named Alden Kane participated in a high school project and came up with a design for a baby stroller that focusses more on giving the maximum of mobility to the wheelchair user instead of of focusing on how to attach a stroller (meant for independent use) to a wheelchair. He used a stainless steel piping construction on wheels that can be attached to the wheelchair. A baby carrier can then be clicked into the construction and the wheelchair will push it forward and allow for the user to leave the house with the newborn. The design gives more flexibility than an attached independent stroller and makes for instance shopping or the use of a public restroom easier. How it works exactly can be seen here. This product has not made it to the market yet.
Another 2015 product in this field is called is the Easystroll. It is part of the Independent Parenthood project of design studio Jonathan Bar-Or. The Easystroll is a universal connector between the wheelchair and the baby stroller that can be used for a wide range of wheelchairs and strollers. The design is minimalistic and is meant not to interfere with the wheelchair’s normal functionalities but rather to allow the user to move freely and independently with the baby. As far as I could verify, this product has also not gone into production yet.
For wheelchair users who prefer to carry their baby themselves, this tip might be useful. According to a parent who has experience with it, the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier is easy to use on the lap because it is designed in two parts, which makes clipping the baby in and adjusting the straps easier. It is suitable for newborns up to weight of 11,3 kilos and comes with a head support for the small ones. The baby can face either the user or the world in front of them.
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Clare Scott. IN UTERO 3D Provides 3D Printed Ultrasounds to Visually Impaired Expectant Parents. August, 24, 2016. Medical 3D printing. See: