Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
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Loughborough University


Sharon Cookin in osteoarthritis simulation suit

A day in the life of...

It is hard to imagine what life is really like for people with restricted mobility and the challenges they face carrying out simple everyday tasks.

For many elderly people, or those who suffer from debilitating health conditions, life can be a daily struggle. Over the years academics from the University’s Ergonomics and Safety Research Institute (ESRI) have used their expertise in empathic modelling to enable others to experience what life is like when your mobility is restricted, raising awareness, aiding the design of new products and improving the provision of healthcare.

It was in 1994 that Sharon Cook, an ergonomist based in ESRI, was approached by the Ford Motor Company. They wanted their in-house ergonomists and designers to better understand the needs of the older driver, to enable them to incorporate these needs into the design of new vehicles.

Initial research was undertaken by ESRI into the state of knowledge concerning older drivers and reported to Ford, who then returned to Loughborough with a further request – they wanted to know if there was any way ESRI’s findings could be turned into a ‘hands on’ experience for their staff.

"This would literally let someone walk in the shoes of an older person and experience firsthand what life is like for someone with restricted mobility"

“Ford knew that simply telling their ergonomists and designers about the problems older drivers faced was not enough – they needed to experience them in order to gain a true understanding,” Sharon explains. “We then started to look into how we could liven up the data and make it more tangible.”

It was at this stage that the concept of creating a simulation suit was born. This would literally let someone walk in the shoes of an older person and experience firsthand what life is like for someone with restricted mobility.

“This wasn’t something we had tried before so we didn’t know if our idea would work, it really was a step into the unknown,” Sharon said. “Based on our research we knew what issues we wanted to replicate in the suit, some were achievable and others were not. For example we could reduce people’s dexterity through the use of gloves, but we could not replicate the impact old age has on cognitive function, such as increased decision response times.”

The View

  1. "no place for a lady" - how the 2012 Olympic Games are changing Soho
  2. happy, healthy mealtimes - helping to understand childhood eating behaviour
  3. cancer care - new healthcare hope thanks to groundbreaking science
  4. commercialisation of childhood - UK children exposed to an explosion of commercial activity
  5. engineering a World Cup winner - adidas "JABULANI" developed in partnership with academics
  6. weight watchers - a revolution in manufacturing which could transform industry
  7. a day in the life of... - experiencing life with restricted mobility
  8. the view round-up

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