A shin guard to boost my confidence and protect your legs

Positive design for child amputees’ sports performance

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Children living with lower limb differences can utilize prostheses for mobility and conformity. However, children’s prostheses is a small market where development happens slowly, with a very small selection of products.
Products in the children’s prosthetics market prioritize providing mobility and tackling mechanical challenges, but amputee children are found to suffer socially as well. (Michielsen, Wijk, Ketelaar 2010) Due to their bodily differences, they can feel stigmatized, which leads to stress, anxiety and lowered self esteem. (Vaes, 2014) Stigma and lowered participation can especially impact preteens, a subset of children 8-12 years old who have increased social awareness and strong motivation to fit in with their peers.
In the research phase of this graduation project, I aimed to construct a design methodology to understand the concerns of amputee children and utilize this to design a product that prioritizes the emotional wellbeing of its user. I employed positive design research to understand the sources of unmet or unvoiced needs, priorities and preferences children could have. As children differ from adults in their cognitive, emotional and language skills, I leveraged principles of designing for children as well as psychological research into children’s development to develop my own methodology, a collection of exercises to uncover the motive hierarchies of preteens. Through in-depth evaluation of the exercises with a child participant, in combination with information from other stakeholders, I found moments in an amputee child’s life a design could provide value.
The collection of product ideas that stem from the research were narrowed down using a lens of feasibility in the scope of this project and desirability for the end user. The final idea selected is a shin cover designed to boost the amputee preteens’ self-confidence when playing soccer, through facilitating a mental shift from daily to exercise use.
Amputee preteens can feel insecure on the football field, as they perceive their prosthetic legs not appropriate for exercise, even though they functionally are. Although sports prostheses exist, they are difficult to finance, offer no additional benefits in contact sports, and amplify the bodily difference between children and their peers. Moreover, children wearing prostheses are barred from playing soccer starting at 14 years old as the prosthesis can harm the players of the opposing team upon impact.
When donned on, as if plate armor, the prosthesis cover visually transforms the prosthesis. The auditory feedback of the snapping cover and buckle provides confidence that the cover is attached properly. 3D printing technology is explored as an enabler of the lightweight, compliant mid-layer which dampens oncoming impact.
This concept, rooted in the concerns of one child who was an amputee, was evaluated with preteens from a football summer school using a prototype. Children were quickly able to identify the prototype as a shin guard and approached it with curiosity.