Walking Aids and Assistive Products

Nurse helping older woman use crutches. Standardization seeks to make facilities more accessible for those with disabilities

In May 2011 the US Census Bureau reported there are 19.4 million people in the US that have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Many standards help manufacturers of walking aids and assistive products address safety, ergonomics and performance, marking, labelling and information pertaining to walking aids and other assistive products such as wheelchairs, software and other devices. A keyword search of standards for walking aids returned many international standards for requirements, test methods and terminology. A similar search of standards for assistive products gave results for assistive products for walking and for the visually impaired and hearing impaired. For example ISO 23600:2007 specifies requirements for acoustic and tactile signals for pedestrian traffic lights to assist in safe and independent mobility.

A three part article by Marion A. Hersh Dept. of Electronics and Electrical Engineering, University of Glasgow covers the design, evaluation and outcomes of assistive products. In The Design and Evaluation of Assistive Technology Products and Devices Part 1, Hersh notes that assistive products should follow good design practices similar to many consumer products such as, “Compliance with any relevant national and international standards or other regulation. Good design practice generally goes beyond minimal compliance and can lead to commercial advantage if the standards or regulations become stricter due to the greater ease and reduced costs of proactive rather than reactive compliance.” In the same article, Hersh cites several resources for further information. The EASTIN database, the European Assistive Technologies Information Network, lists information on existing Assistive Technology (AT) products, their availability in the European market, and guidance for their appropriate choice and application.

The University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories conducts research and development in assistive technology. According to HERL, their testing facility for wheelchairs “is able to conduct a majority of the ISO or ANSI/RESNA testing which is required for FDA approval. Both manual and powered wheelchairs can be tested. All manner of destructive and non-destructive testing is available.” [This is not an endorsement by ANSI, just a reference for your information. We’d like to hear more about work in assistive technologies and would welcome your comments to this post.]

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