Throughout the course of the semester, we've been asked at various points what our thesis framing statements are. The framing statement became a special point of emphasis in our Service Entrepreneurship class taught by Steven Dean. In this class, we were walked through the basics of conceptual modeling, a useful practice that, while tricky and time-consuming to nail down correctly, paid off large dividends once the modeling work has been completed. The act of modeling itself is one that is deliberate and needs to be taken step by step - and in this sense is a meta practice, being more concerned with the structure of structures, i.e. the design of structures of thought, of understanding, of knowledge, than with the design work itself. The concept map below is the result of many, many iterations and many hours spent trying to distill Unbound into its constituent concepts with the aim of developing a lexicon marked by a certain economy of language that was still descriptive enough to avoid oversimplification. If the map seems simple when you read through it, I won't be offended; a good concept map makes the complex seem simple and somewhat obvious.
Laying out the territory of my thesis as I've done above makes it clear what I'm trying to do with the thesis, which personally felt like a huge benefit of completing this exercise. When I say that treatment is seen through the lens of restoration and not empowerment, I'm also making a statement about whether or not that same treatment is expert-led [which, in the case of my thesis, means anyone other than the patient is leading the treatment] or self-led. Now the point of my thesis isn't to write-off decades of medical advances and best practices, all in the name of advocating for patient rights and self-led treatment. Instead, I believe that there is a middle ground that allows for these two paradigms of treatment to be mutually reinforcing. It's within this middle ground where my thesis offerings are situated.
As the map outlines, there are currently four main offerings for my thesis, although in all honesty, I've been focusing on three primarily. The ugly duckling of the group is my thesis as a campaign. This is an idea from last semester that argued that people with disabilities are marginalized from society in a variety of ways, one of the most alarming of which is the inaccessibility of the justice system around New York City [many courthouses are inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair]. Taking inspiration from the history of vandalism and graffiti, I imagined what it would be like if disability activists took to the streets and forcibly pointed out instances of injustice and inaccessibility.
Journey refers to the app by the same name from first semester, which connects recently injured spinal cord patients to one another based on personality type and injury type. The motivation for this app came from the idea that sometimes, the best support comes from someone who is down in the trenches with you. It can be discouraging to only be in touch with experts - SCI/D veterans, healthcare professionals - and it can be isolating. Sometimes the person that you want to hear from and talk to the most is the person who is battling through the same struggle that you're battling through - a hunch of mine that has been confirmed by several memoirs of people with SCI/D. This idea has evolved in the past semester to involve an entire team of individuals which include spinal cord injury veterans who have been out of the hospital for years and have a lot of advice and perspective to offer the recently injured patient, as well as the patient's occupational therapist. This is a work in progress, so more on the development of the Journey app at a later date!
Test Drive, formerly known as Training Wheels, has remained unchanged. This is a wheelchair loaner service that replaces loaner chairs with used wheelchairs. The idea here is that loaner chairs and first wheelchairs are the two worst types of wheelchairs that a wheelchair user will ever use, mostly because of two things. The first is that the loaner chair is practically generic - the hospital doesn't have that many loaner chairs on hand, so what the patient figuratively sees is what the patient gets. The wheelchair user doesn't, or rather, can't develop expertise in wheelchair handling in the loaner chair because it is a poorly fitted wheelchair; because of this, most recently injured SCI/D patients will order a custom wheelchair with the help of their occupational therapist very soon after leaving the hospital, in order to leave the loaner chair as soon as possible. But what if the loaner chair experience could be improved? Instead of borrowing the loaner chair from the hospital, what if the patient could be fitted for a used wheelchair bought from an SCI/D veteran? They could spend more time in that chair - instead of 2 to 3 months, which is the normal amount of time spent in the loaner chair, it could look more like 6 to 9 months - and develop their wheelchair handling skills much faster. Down the line, they'll know more specifically what kind of a wheelchair is best suited to their idiosyncratic need, which is an improvement over the current system where patients often end up with a poorly fitting wheelchair, made all the worse by the fact that insurance only covers a new wheelchair every five years.
Thesis as product has morphed quite a bit. Gone is the rollable ramp - an interesting idea whose interaction with the user made no sense. In order to use the ramp, a user would have to reach behind him or her, grab the ramp, unfurl it, roll over it, and bend over, pick it up and roll it up again. The amount of upper body strength and stability that this requires almost guarantees that the user will have enough strength to pop a wheelie in order to travel over obstructions. As far as the other product that I developed - the bluetooth incontinence implant - goes, it's a bit tricky designing a product that normally takes 5 to 10 years to develop. At the suggestion of my department chair, I chose to focus on incontinence and bowel movements more broadly. By returning to my users and interviewing them, I found a real need for two things - a convenient and easy way to sterilize catheters for reuse, and an overall more humanely designed suite of objects that help the SCI/D patient defecate in the absence of bowel control.
But more on that later.