Design as Reflection

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


For young persons with disabilities it is important to be as everyone else and not deviating from the normative in an unwanted way. Assistive devices are products that persons with disabilities can use to get accessibility to our society. Such products enable the person to participate in activities he or she wishes to take part in. However assistive devices are also a sign for disability, indicating that a user of such a product is different from others. As a consequence persons with disabilities sometimes avoid using their assistive devices in public. There are many reasons why. However, one reason which is addressed in this thesis is that the identity of the product is in conflict with the user’s desired self-image. This may be due to the fact that a user of an assistive device has not voluntarily chosen the product. Even though the person does not like the appearance of the product, he or she must use it in order to take part in society on equal terms. In this thesis, I have described how young adult users with disabilities emotionally experience their assistive devices. This thesis also explores how users handle the situation of being forced to use an involuntarily chosen product which they do not like. Finally, the thesis describes how design may contribute to solve conflicts between the identity of an unwanted product and the desired identity of the user.

In order to understand how young persons with disabilities emotionally experience their assistive devices I have carried out in depth interviews with ten young adult users of assistive devices. Furthermore I have carried out a design project employing a participatory design process together with young wheelchair users to create a product based on the understanding of how users experience products in relation to their self-image, experience of meaningfulness and stigmatisation. The results indicate that young adult persons (whom I have interviewed) used three different strategies to handle their emotional conflict of being forced to use a non-voluntarily chosen product which he or she does not like: (1) they endure, feeling they cannot do anything (2) they abandon it, or (3) they redesign the product themselves to meet their personal preferences and values. From these strategies I have created a concept model describing product experiences in relation to the user’s self-image, meaningfulness and stigmatisation. The concept model will encourage designers to view assistive devices in a new way, changing his or her approach to design; from regarding them as mainly functional products meeting the user’s bodily abilities to regarding assistive devices as part of a person’s self-expression meeting his or her desired self-image. Using the concept model to improve the understanding of experience of assistive devices may support the design of new products which are more congruent with user’s self-image. In the long run, attitudes and prejudices in society towards persons with disabilities using assistive devices may be improved.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics


  • Product Experiences, Reflective Design, Self-image, Meaningfulness, Stigmatizing, Users with Disabilities, Assistive Devices.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2011 Aug 26
  • Lund University (Media-Tryck)
Print ISBNs978-91-7473-111-8
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2011-08-26 Time: 09:00 Place: Museum of Sketches, Finngatan 2, Lund University Faculty of Engineering External reviewer(s) Name: Ilstedt Hjelm, Sara Title: Professor Affiliation: Industrial design, Royal Institute of technology, Stockholm ---