DESIGNING NEW PATHWAYS FOR HEALTHCARE for the 2015 DesignPhiladelphia Festival

September 18, 2015 | 2015 Festival, DesignPhiladelphia

TUESDAY 10/13 | 6:30-7:30PM
Harrison Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania | 3260 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

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Hear how two Philadelphia universities are breaking down boundaries and forging new roles for creative thinking in healthcare! The Industrial Design Department at the University of the Arts and the Occupational Therapy Department at Thomas Jefferson University are collaborating to bring dignity and humaNness to individuals with disabilities while maximizing function and improving quality of life. Come early for the Industrial Design NOW student work reception on Tuesday October 13 from 5-6.30pm prior to the lecture. Projects discussed in the lecture will be on view!

We talked with Michael McAllister, an industrial designer and associate professor of Industrial Design in the College of Art, Media & Design at the University of the Arts about Designing New Pathways for Healthcare and how the event represents a SHIFT in designing for disabilities.

What does SHIFT mean to you and how does your event express it?

At this event my project partner, Professor Kim Mollo from Thomas Jefferson University, and I will describe the details of a powerful exploration that intersects design and healthcare, creativity and science. It's a collaboration we've constructed that expands beyond our own individual institutional walls. Currently it involves Industrial Design students from The University of the Arts, Occupational Therapy students from the Thomas Jefferson School of Health Sciences, and several people living with various physical disabilities from Liberty Resources Inc., an advocacy group for people with disabilities. One of the many shifts at play here is the downSHIFT in institutional barriers that constrict how education happens. Another is the SHIFT in perspective that occurs as students learn that people with disabilities are so much like them. This SHIFT involves dissolving social and personal mental barriers and developing empathy.The programs at The University of the Arts and at Thomas Jefferson are both Human Centered programs. And so the whole project is built in a human centered way.In a world that values aggressive speediness we teach slowness, gentleness and courage. Listening is a valued skill. To be Human Centered we must really listen to each other to truly understand. So we are talking about a SHIFT in skills required.

Humans are unpredictable and in this project we plunge right into the complexity and unpredictability of working with people with disabilities. This isn't easy. As faculty we don't know the problem at the start and we certainly don't know the answer. So here is another SHIFT in roles as faculty. Faculty as partners and facilitators and perhaps coaches rather than as dispensers of knowledge. We are all learning to work with uncertainty together. So this is the real goal. Learning to navigate uncertainty while partnering honestly and authentically with complex human beings in a co-creative multi-disciplinary process. So here is another SHIFT in learning objective.

This project has opened a gate to a new pathway for developing appropriate and meaningful solutions to healthcare issues. This is a beginning but a powerful one. We hope the students take their learning forward as they eventually enter the workforce. We know something really important is cooking here and it involves many SHIFTs at many levels.

What do you hope attendees take away from attending your event?

  • A new Perspective on people with disabilities.
  • Inspiration for collaborative projects.
  • Belief in the power of creative process.
  • Connection with like-minded people.
  • Some attendees may become inspired to become involved in this project. We are looking for technical support on our projects.
  • We will also have some of our partners who are living with disabilities there to answer questions and explain their thoughts and experiences in this project.

What are you working on now for in the near future that's exciting?

Three things:

1. Expanding this collaboration. I’m hoping to find some engineering partners and have begun discussions with University of Pennsylvannia this regard but it would also be very interesting if this partner came from beyond academia. People with real world industry experience. I suspect there are many people with vast expertise that might be interested in partnering or at least consulting with college students.

2. In a separate project I will soon be doing immersive research by shadowing 5 people with disabilities for about 7 days each. The idea is to be with them constantly to gain a deep understanding of the problems they confront daily and how they creatively negotiate these problems.  I'll be photographing and filming and observing. I'll actually need help filming or photographing and hope to publish this work.

3. The third thing is a specific project where we are working to redesign the harness for a guide dog. This is a fascinating project because it involves two stakeholders. One is MaryEllen, the woman that is blind. And the second is her dog. I’ve never had a dog as a project stakeholder!

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