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Participatory design process by and for people with disabilities in a FabLab

Authors of the article: Boudheroua Sana, Boussicault Adrien, Bouvier Emma, Granet Thomas, Lacroix Pierre, Livet Antoine, Moret Alexandre, Pichot Sophie, Schwartz Cathy, Terriot Maria.

Date : March 2023 – WORK IN PROGRESS

License : CreativeCommons BY-SA 4.0

The associative structures « La République En Roues Libres » (La RERL), « L’institut d’Education Motrice Château Raba » / APF and AVC AIT Carpe Diem in collaboration with the Bordeaux Computer Science Research Laboratory (LaBRI) and the FabLab Eirlab of Bordeaux INP have recently been experimenting with co-design workshops to develop and produce objects for and by people with disabilities.

In this document we first present this approach, then we describe its concrete application by describing this co-participation with the members of the 4 structures mentioned above through numerous projects.

1) The co-design approach:

This co-design approach brings together volunteers from FabLAB EirLAB, as well as engineers/researchers from LaBRI and Bordeaux INP around projects for people with disabilities. Among these volunteers and engineers/researchers, there are representatives of associative structures and also people with disabilities. This approach aims to create objects adapted to the specific needs of disabled people in the FabLAB and associative structures.

The co-design process takes place, at the FabLab, through several workshops which are structured using the following 8 steps:

  1. Meet people and discover the tools of the FabLab: in this stage, the researchers and volunteers of the FabLab meet the people who volunteer, introduce them to the FabLab, its environment and its tools through various tutorials and personalized support. At the end of this stage, people make simple objects, such as storage boxes, figurines, etc.
  2. Identify what can be achieved with the tools of the FabLab: at the end of the workshop, a discussion is initiated to reflect on the objects that can be achieved within the FabLab. The objects do not necessarily meet a specific need related to the disability of the disabled persons. The purpose of this approach is to initiate a process of creation and production that helps to design the objects necessary to solve a problem related to the person’s disability.
  3. Define the expectations of the person according to their disability: after several workshops, several achievements and personalized exchanges, an in-depth reflection is carried out to understand and begin to solve the problem targeted at people’s disabilities.
  4. Carry out simple proofs of concepts: proofs of concepts are carried out for:
    1. check that there is no misunderstanding on the functionalities of the tool to be created;
    2. refine the solutions to be provided or sought.
  5. Produce a detailed functional requirements specification and a design/production schedule: once the proof of concept has been validated, a detailed and achievable functional requirements specification is drawn up. Then, a schedule is defined to obtain a more successful product.
  6. Build the prototype: versions of the prototype are produced verifying the functional requirements of step 5).
  7. Testing and validating prototypes: the object is tested in different contexts and its operation is validated using user feedback. At the end of these tests, the work of step 5) can be repeated.
  8. Publish and promote the prototype: the stable and robust version of the prototype is published under a free license, with its documentation. The prototype is presented to various associative and professional actors.

Depending on the people and their wishes, steps 5) and 6) are carried out jointly or not with the FabLab, researchers and/or professionals.

2) Co-participation with the association La République En Roues Libres:

« La République en Roues Libres » (the freewheeling republic, « La RERL ») is a non-profit association, which works in favor of the autonomy of people with disabilities, on the human and technical aspects.
During the year 2022-2023, two projects were realized in collaboration with Adrien Boussicault and Pierre Lacroix: an electric page turner and a safety cap for a patient lift.

2.1) Co-development of an electric page turner

Participants/Authors: Boudheroua Sana, Boussicault Adrien, Bouvier Emma, Lacroix Pierre, Livet Antoine, Moret Alexandre, Pichot Sophie, Terriot Maria

The origin of this project was a problem encountered by one of the association’s members, who had lost the pleasure of reading with the loss of her physical ability to handle a book. This problem is in fact encountered by many disabled people in the network of associations of the République en Roues Libres. They enjoy reading paper books, but do not have the ability to hold a book and turn the pages.
About a year ago, the association La RERL, had the surprise and luck to have a donation of electric page-turners, which have not been found on the market for many years.

Thus, among the many technical aid projects of this association, the volunteers chose the electric page turner for their first co-design. The fact that they had an existing model allowed them a smooth entry into the world of makers…

What is an electric page turner?

The electric page turner is a device that serves as a book holder and allows you to turn pages without using your hands. It is composed of a desk on which the book is placed, of two shovels (one located at the top and the other at the bottom) allowing to maintain the book open, of two « reinforcement » clamps placed on the right and on the left of the desk allowing to help to maintain the book and of an arm, mobile after activation, which has for function to turn the pages (you will be able to see in photos and videos, a first partial prototype of the electric page-turner) A contactor at the breath allows to activate the device: spreading of the shovels, followed by the movement of the arm which turns the page (by swivelling and translating), then putting back in place the shovels. By blowing for a longer time, it is possible to turn the pages in the opposite direction.

The stages of co-design of the page-turner

After step 1 and 2, with the establishment of a first list of projects, it was thus decided to start the co-design of this device, which in addition to answering a concrete need of autonomy of the people in situation of handicap, could prove to be useful on a larger scale (to read completely wrapped up in its bed, the winter evenings for example…). A relative reproduction of this device with the tools available to the FabLab was then started in spring 2022.
We then defined a number of functional requirements before starting to model this device.

List : (Adrien, maybe you can add the functional needs we listed here ?)

Here, step 5 was started before step 4 because there was an existing model, but it will be completed later.
As well as in parallel to step 4, a regular return to step 1 (with dedicated workshops) was necessary to refine the mastery of the FabLab tools (especially for the Onshape software). Workshops dedicated to the engines also took place during this stage 1.

Faced with the complexity of the device, at each stage of co-design of the different motorized parts, a test of the partial prototype of the page turner (stage 4) was carried out. These tests allowed to review and improve some elements of the page turner before working on another part of this tool.

  • In a first step, the desk (the tray as well as the supports of the tray) was modeled with the help of Onshape software. On the tray, rectangular holes were made to allow different height adjustments to fit different sizes of books (add pictures with different heights?). At the back, the supports allowing to maintain the desk, also allow different adjustments of inclination of this desk (add photos with at least two adjustments?). The different elements were then cut with a laser cutter, assembled, glued and tested (plan of this part)
  • In a second time, were modeled, the shovel of the bottom as well as the box which allows him of support (with its engine), but which also allows the support of the book. Once the cuts were made, the assembly realized, tested and validated, the co-design of the 3rd part of the page-turner started. (plan of this 2nd part)
  • This 3rd part, corresponds to the top shovel, as well as to the box which allows the support of the shovel and its engine. As for the other parts, after the modeling, there was the cutting of the various elements, the assembly and the gluing. (plan of this 3rd part)

After co-designing each of these parts, it was sometimes necessary to make modifications to the previously made parts to solve some problems of conflicts between elements and to reach a better functionality of the page turner as a whole, at this stage of the realization.

Currently, the project is still in progress, the stage 4 of the complete device will be committed to the next workshops. As you can see in the video, all that remains to be done is to attach the arm and a magnet system at the back, with plates at the front, which will replace the clamps of the original device. Once these last elements are in place, it will be possible to test the complete prototype in different contexts, and then validate it according to the feedback from users (step 8).
The writing of the documentation (step 8) has been started in parallel to some of the steps in order to facilitate the process.

2.2) Co-development of a safety cap for a patient lifts

Participants/Authors: Boudheroua Sana, Boussicault Adrien, Bouvier Emma, Lacroix Pierre, Livet Antoine, Pichot Sophie, Terriot Maria

This project follows a request from one of the members of La RERL, to be able to make her transfers in a secure way via a lift.

What is a lift and why a safety cap?

When a person is unable to stand and in order to preserve the back of the caregiver, the use of a transfer device is essential. It allows the disabled person to be carried from the wheelchair to another place (toilet or bed for example). There are « mini » lifts (in this case, the mini-lift) that are more compact and easier to transport than traditional transfer devices.

(photo with Emma on the lift)

As you can see on the picture, the person is lifted via a strap attached to the mini lift at 4 points.
The problem encountered by many users of this tool in particular, is the hooks of the strap that tend to come off easily, which can be very dangerous.

In parallel to the co-design of the page-turner, the workshop participants dedicated two sessions in January 2023 to the development of safety caps. (photos of the cap alone ?)

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These caps aim at securing the strap’s attachment by preventing it from coming out.

The steps of co-designing the safety cap

For this project, there was no need to go through step 1 again, as the members of the association were already familiar with the FabLab. Nevertheless, they were able to discover and begin training in the Cura software and the use of the 3D printer.
Here, step 2 was done in a more informal way during a discussion before the beginning of the page-turning workshop. Indeed, during the various workshops and as the learning and exchanges progress, new ideas and projects emerge and are refined. This project responded to an emergency and was quicker to complete. Step 3 was done before step 2 because the idea of the cap was thought in response to a very precise problem, the one described above.

Several attempts at modeling on Cura were then tested before arriving at its pre-final form, the shape having been simplified in the course of reflections. Once the 3D printing was finished, a first proof of concept allowed to note a discomfort of the user because of the right angles of the object, which were finally rounded. As well as modifications to the length of the object.

Currently, the project is in step 7, with user testing underway.

3) Co-participation with the association IEM Château Raba / APF

The « Institut d’Education Motrice Château Raba » (IEM) is a medico-social establishment managed by the « Association des Paralysés de France » (APF) which offers care for adolescents and adults subject to significant motor impairment in order to support in their family, social and professional integration.

Three co-development projects have been carried out: an additional keyboard for the computer with very sensitive keys presented in section 3.1, a bottle holder presented in section 3.2, and the reproduction of adapted video game controllers presented in 3.3.

3.1) Co-development of an additional keyboard for the computer with very sensitive keys:

Participants/Authors: Boussicault Adrien, Granet Thomas, Lacroix Pierre

The objective of this project is to allow Thomas Granet to use the CAD software Onshape. This software is difficult to use because you have to make key combinations while pressing the middle mouse button, and moving the mouse.
In addition, Thomas Granet has little amplitude and strength in his upper limbs.

To solve this problem, a very sensitive, three-key keyboard was designed. This keyboard connects to the computer like a conventional keyboard and allows you to send any key combination to the computer when you press one of the three buttons.
Finally, in order to allow the user to use this keyboard as a development platform for arduino projects, for his future projects, he can access the electronics by opening the cover of the box which is retained by a rubber band by a outside help.

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The Onshape CAD software link of the latest version of this object is: onshape project

The construction plan of this keyboard can be downloaded at the following address:

Its laser cutting plan can be downloaded at this other address:

The source code for the Arduino Leonardo keyboard controller can be downloaded from the following repository: Work in progress.

Documentation must now be written to explain its assembly and use.

It is interesting to point out that this prototype is functional and is of interest to many people participating in the other workshops.

3.2) Co-development of a bottle holder

Participants/Authors: Boussicault Adrien, Granet Thomas, Lacroix Pierre, Reynald Morin, Bruno Pires, LIST ALL PARTICIPANTS

For a person with preemption difficulties, it is difficult to drink from a gourd, independently, without spilling it. The help of an assistant is necessary to hold the bottle vertically. In this project, a bottle holder has been designed. It can be fixed by the interested party on a table. He can place the gourd on the support and finally, he can drink independently.
Here are 3 photos showing the first prototype obtained:

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It must however be improved. On the images, modifications to be made are written with a pen.

The Onshape CAD software link of the latest version of this object is: Onshape Project.

Version 2.0 building plans:

His laser cutting plan:

Assembly documentation remains to be written.

3.3) Reproduction of video game controllers

Participants: Granet Thomas, Louis Montagne, Reynald Morin, Bruno Pires, LIST ALL PARTICIPANTS

Work in progress.

4) Co-participation with members of the AVC AIT Carpe Diem association :

Participants/Authors: Boussicault Adrien, Lacroix Pierre, Schmidt Etienne, Cathy Schwartz

For the AVC AIT Carpe Diem association, after a first meeting with the president of the association, Cathy Schwartz, it was agreed to work, initially, with her only in order to best adapt the approach to the needs of the members of the association.

Cathy Schwartz, suffered an ischemic stroke seven years ago which reduced her visual field. Currently, we are at stage 1 and 2 of the process. During the first discussions, while testing the operation of the laser cutter, we thought of several solutions concerning the following problems:

1. how to prevent the president’s laptop from overheating;
2. make a copy of his “key ring, pen, phone holder”. This object is no longer available on the market and is practical on a daily basis for people with right or left hemiplegia. Indeed, the telephone is held alone on a plane or a table. With the valid hand the person can then, using a stylus, change the pages of the document he is reading;
3. find a solution for hemiplegics who find it difficult to pull up a zipper and block it to avoid going down again;
4. find a solution to help the user use his two visual fields. As indicated in the process, these issues do not necessarily concern the user’s disability.

The following technical solutions were found:

  • Overheating of the PC has been eliminated by raising the laptop using plastic anti-vibration pads. This simple solution seems, fortuitously, to have also helped to solve problems of handle pain. This solution must however be improved to ensure a more solid fixing of the studs.
  • A keychain solution, made with a 3D printer. It has been tested but it lacks stability and is impractical. A new one must be developed;
  • An over-button has been made with a 3D printer, allowing the user to attach the fly, via an elastic to the over-button which is sewn on the pants next to the usual button; Here are some photos of the achievements and tests:

The Onshape CAD software link of the latest version of this object is: Onshape Project.

Building plan of the version 1.0:

  • An electronic device with a box with two buttons and two LEDs has been developed: the two LEDs are positioned on the left and on the right of the screen, so that the left eye (resp. right) does not see the LED right (resp. left). When the user is playing a video game, the keyboard and mouse are randomly disabled after a certain random time. If the user does not press the left (resp. right) button when the left (resp. right) led is on then keyboard and mouse are disabled for a few seconds, preventing the user from continuing to play. By doing so, the user is forced to operate both hemispheres of the brain in order to continue playing.

Here, we see that the approach joins that of the living laboratories (Living Lab) where the discussion between different actors favors the emergence of new ideas and concrete solutions.

5) Co-participation with LaBRI members and students from the University of Bordeaux

5.1) Co-development of the « pedestrian trackball » or « podomouse »

Participants/Authors: Allain Anaelle, Boussicault Adrien, Brindel Leonard, Dorémus Océane, Guevara Garban Manuel, Lacroix Pierre, Schmidt Etienne, Vernant Charlène.

The pedestrian trackball project is carried out by two members of OpenHandicap of the LaBRI, namely Adrien Boussicault and Pierre Lacroix who are respectively teacher-researcher for the first and computer engineer for the second. Pierre Lacroix has cerebral palsy, he has particular difficulty synchronizing his upper limbs. For him, using a computer mouse is complicated and tiring. In this project, he is both user and designer. He tries to find solutions to overcome his motor difficulties.
In this project, steps 1) and 2) were not carried out, because the interested parties have known each other for a long time and are frequent users of the FabLab.
At step 3) of the process, they defined Pierre Lacroix’s expectations:

  • move the mouse pointer of a computer using the feet (the use of the hands being very complicated and tedious);
  • using the feet to be able to play a musical instrument;
  • manipulate food or objects using a robotic arm from the feet.

As planned in step 4), a proof of concept was carried out by Manuel Guevara Garban as part of a student internship at the FabLab. The following two images show the completed proof of concept.

This is a giant pedestrian trackball. This device consists of rotating a bowling ball on a wooden support, with the foot, then transcribing the movement of the ball to the computer pointer, by correlating the sensor of a computer mouse to the ball.

The programs and electronic diagrams are available on the following git server: .

The Onshape CAD software link of the latest version of this object is: Onshape Project.

A l’issu de se prototype, les auteurs ont eut l’idée d’utiliser le trackball pour faire un instrument de musique, mais aussi un dispositif pour manipuler un bras articulé.
Évidement, il faudra ajouter des éléments électroniques au dispositif mécanique.

Les programmes et schémas électroniques sont disponibles sur le serveur git suivant :

After this first proof of concept, as planned in step 5), a detailed functional requirements sheet was written.
Thanks to funding from the LaBRI, several prototypes (step 6) were produced for 2 months in co-design by Adrien Boussicault and Pierre Lacroix.
The following images show the evolution of the different versions from the oldest to the most recent:

In addition to these three versions of the trackball, the design of 3 new pointer concepts have emerged. The next two photos show the most functional of the three.

It is a board with four wheels that acts as a mouse for the feet. A button below the heel simulates the raising of the mouse.
The tests and validations (step 7) were carried out by Pierre Lacroix. The results of these tests can be viewed in the following file:

In the state of the project, the publication (step 8) is in progress, because it is necessary to carry out several improvements. The prototype was presented to the Group for the Integration of the Physically Handicapped (GIHP) as well as to the Institute of Motor Education (IEM). A version is in progress, in order to make it available to the GIHP showroom.

5.2) Co-development of musical instruments for people with disabilities

Participants/Authors: Desainte-Catherine Myriam, Gael Jaton, Lacroix Pierre, Bernard Serpette

The SCRIME contacted the FabLab to test an experimental prototype of musical instruments that can be played with the feet. This request coincides with the will to transform in step 3, the trackball into a musical instrument. This discussion leds to the realization that it is possible to dissociate the technical and mechanical execution of the musical score from that of its interpretation.

This problem is one of the areas of research of the SCRIME through the meta-piano or the MidifilePerformer. More precisely, in musical practice, there is, on the one hand, a static support which corresponds to the score, containing among other notes and rhythms and, on the other hand, there is the interpretation of this score which reveals the expression that the musician wants to give. Thus, a score played by a computer turns out to be expressionless and uninteresting. The same piece, played with slightly uneven rhythms, with notes played differently: notes pushed, pricked, tied, untied, detached, supported, torn, will bring the desired expressiveness. The original idea of the first authors has therefore evolved and now meets the research issues of SCRIME. These needs consist of:

  1. produce a tool to transcribe the adaptive performance of a score. This will be a computer-assisted music production tool dedicated to people with disabilities;
  2. design a musical instrument that can be manipulated with the feet, so as to
    • be couple with the tool described in 1) to automatically play the notes, a single part, soulless, eliminating all technical difficulties related to classical musical instruments;
    • offer a simplified interface that can be manipulated by the feet, to interpret the piece by controlling, in time and volume, the scrolling of the score, in order to give it back a soul.

Currently, the prototypes of the SCRIME provide us with the first proofs of concept of this instrument.