Design insights from buying ice cream on a wheelchair
Do experiences and needs from clothing change when one is seated on a wheelchair?
Over the course of our exchanges and interviews with people with disabilities (PWDs), we understood that their challenges become very different once they are on a wheelchair. Understanding is one thing, but experiencing is another and we decided we needed to do just that.
We settled for Gardens by the Bay (GBTB) as it is is one of the newest attractions and therefore ought to also be one of the most accessible attractions in Singapore. A perfect trial for wheelchair first-timers like us. Also, I remembered my granny borrowing a wheelchair while she was there so that helps, too.
Ethrisha and I paid $2 for the rental of the wheelchair and sheepishly pushed it out of sight before sitting in it. It was surprising how much your world changes when you are in a wheelchair.
We didn’t go far before we realized what it took to explore GBTB on wheelchairs. The upslope journey combined with strong winds meant our arms and shoulders quickly wore out. Under the hot afternoon sun, I wanted to reach for my water bottle at the back pocket of the wheelchair but unfortunately lacked a contortionist’s flexibility.
15 minutes in and my romper was already soaked through my back, buttocks and under my thighs and the crotch area was all creased up. By this time, the leg supports of the wheelchair was also getting warm and uncomfortable and the coarse non-breathable fabric didn't help either.
Soon, we decided that we needed a cool treat and made our way towards Macdonald’s. There wasn’t a separate counter for ice cream on the outside at that point, so we had to enter. However, the realization that we could not enter came quickly as we looked at the handles of the glass double door. Not knowing what to do, we stood by the door, blocking it until a passerby, unsure if we needed help, weaved in to open the doors for us. It felt really embarrassing to have been stopped in our tracks by something as simple as glass doors and to have everyone looking through the said glass doors unsure of our intentions.
With the long queues, fixed seating arrangements and crowded space, there was no way for us to enjoy our ice cream after buying it. With a hand on the ice cream cone and only one free hand, we would have wheeled ourselves in senseless circles. Feeling silly and helpless, the only thing left to do was to hold on to the ice cream with our thighs (praying desperately that it doesn’t melt all over our bottoms) so that we could wheel towards the exit.
A trip to our city’s latest garden for a simple afternoon treat turned into a test of our physical endurance, agility and the additional social pressure from people around us. I suppose when the world around you is not built with your needs in mind, it quickly becomes an obstacle course.
It was an eye-opening experience that deeply informed us about the challenges and apparel needs of PWDs on wheelchairs. Through these insights, we came up with these design applications to guide Will & Well’s collection:
1. Thin, breathable and natural fabric (i.e. cotton, silk, etc) to keep cool in our climate
2. More fabric on the buttock area so that there is enough fabric on the under thigh to refrain from heat rash
3. Cutting of the crotch area to reduce creases – a neater appearance
4. Pockets on trousers that are easily accessible and functional
5. Trouser easy to put on and take off for toileting and dressing purposes- independence and dignity