Ikea Hacks its Own Products for People with Disabilities

Dubbed the “ThisAbles” project, IKEA Israel has partnered with assistive technology and support NGOs Milbat and Access Israel to create a range of add-ons to some of IKEA’s most popular products to help people who need a little more assistance with things like light switches and zippers.

The concept is simple: around 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some kind of physical difference that can render everyday activities, like getting up off the sofa or pulling on a curtain, more difficult than it needs to be.

While the world has slowly become more attuned to how it can reform buildings and workplaces to better cater to people of all physical needs, products we interact with on a daily basis have often slipped through the cracks. IKEA wants to tackle that.

By using in-store “hackathons”, where people come together to show what creative things they have done with IKEA’s furniture and furnishings and listen to stories of difficulties customers face, IKEA Israel has been able to come up with several ideas for how it can make its products more accessible.

Here’s a campaign video for ThisAbles to explain what forms these new add-on products take.

The add-ons may not look that extraordinary, but it’s important to consider them from the viewpoint of someone who might need them.

For example, adding a cane holder to a bed might sound almost like a luxury, but it could spare someone with chronic fatigue, MS, Parkinson’s or cerebral palsy from having to stretch all the way to the floor in order to get their mobility aid or risking having it fall out of reach in the middle of the night when they have placed it beside their bed.

By the same token, people who do not have to think about their own mobility may take for granted the act of pinching their fingers around a narrow door handle and pulling to open it. People who have limited feeling, dexterity or range of motion may find this incredibly difficult. All these little barriers add up and can make a given day that much more challenging to get through.

Items like extra large door handles, added handles and larger buttons can all help that. Bumpers on edges of counters and furniture can also help people with mobility impairment navigate more easily and safely.

The company bills these innovations as an extension of its broader ethos. A statement from IKEA reads in part: “As part of IKEA’s vision to ‘create a better everyday life for as many people as possible,’ we joined forces with the non-profit organizations Milbat and Access Israel, that specialize in creating special solutions for populations with special needs and disabilities, and developed a new and revolutionary line of products that bridge some of the gaps between existing IKEA products and the special needs of people belonging to these populations.”

Perhaps the most unique part of this approach is that IKEA is enabling its users worldwide to get these add-ons via 3D printing. The chain has released the plans for free on its website, meaning people can access the additional mobility items either by going to a store and 3D printing there or ordering via one of many online 3D printing companies. This means that people who need it can modify some of IKEA’s already affordable furniture at a relatively low cost.

By taking this approach, IKEA has neatly sidestepped a problem that many other big brands have encountered. When trying to design mobility assisting items, retailers may choose to create products that are “one-size-fits-all”. While it may be of some use, this rarely meets the needs of people who have particularized conditions or overlapping mobility issues. By creating cheap and highly durable mobility add-ons to existing products, IKEA has entered the market with a refreshing willingness to listen to consumers and to tailor to their needs as best it can.

Much in that spirit, IKEA is asking for suggestions for further additions it might make to its mobility add-on range or problems that users would like solved. You can submit those here.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.

31 comments

Gino C
Gino C15 days ago

very good

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Alice L
Alice L16 days ago

well done

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Shirley S
Shirley S24 days ago

A brilliant initiative.

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Colin C
Colin C24 days ago

Good one Ikea

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Anna R
Anna R27 days ago

thanks

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Leo C
Leo C28 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Danuta W
Danuta W28 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Chad A
Chad A28 days ago

Nice.

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Tracy Marotta
Tracy Marotta28 days ago

this is awesome!

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Diane E
Diane E28 days ago

Thanks. We need more firms to do this.

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