National

Manufacturers help innovations for disabled evolve from idea to reality

Kyodo

Firms are launching innovative products aimed at making life easier for people with disabilities after incorporating ideas from the people who need them.

In May, medical sheet maker Teikoku Pharmacare Corp. released a shoulder strap for canes. Called ArukuTomo (which literally means “walking friend”), the strap allows people to let go of their canes when reaching for a wallet, taking the stairs or doing other things that require a free hand.

A 63-year-old man came up with the idea after a stroke left him paralyzed on his left side. After leaving the hospital, Kazuyoshi Endo attached a camera strap to his cane so he could hook it over his shoulder for walking practice without worrying about dropping it.

The strap drew attention when he visited his local rehabilitation facility — without a wheelchair. Impressed, the staffers asked Endo where they could buy one.

Convinced there was a market for his invention, Endo brought the idea to Naomi Matsumoto, who heads Hatsumei Labox, a Tokyo company that specializes in developing innovative products.

“Is it possible to commercialize this?” Endo asked. Matsumoto saw the potential, not only for those with disabilities but for the elderly as well. Improving on the original idea, the company developed a prototype that subsequently attracted the interest of Teikoku Pharmacare President Mikiya Kasai.

Before the product was officially launched, Endo took a trip to his family’s grave in Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture, a journey made easier by the new strap.

“It’s so great because it means I don’t have to stay at home,” Endo said.

ArukuTomo has a safety mechanism that prevents it from snagging on people or objects, and it automatically releases the strap should it get caught in a train door, the developers said. It costs ¥9,800 ($87).

Meanwhile, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, cotton fabric processor Suzuki Industrial Arts Co. has launched a bag for women who use wheelchairs. The bag, which can be hooked to a wheelchair using a specially designed belt, sells for ¥14,018.

To make the product fashionable as well as functional, the company tied up with Semui, a nonprofit organization that publishes Co-Co Life Joshibu, a fashion magazine for women with disabilities.

The bag was developed based on ideas from a survey of readers, most of them in their teens through their 30s. The top factors included style, a zipper easy to use with one hand, and a wide strap to distribute weight evenly across the shoulder.

One respondent, a 19-year-old reader nicknamed Miyu, said it is hard to find a bag easy to attach a wheelchair.

Tamitsugu Inoue, who guided the project at Suzuki Industrial Arts, said reader feedback was essential to the bag’s success.

“By listening to their opinions, we were able to come up with a product that really meets the needs of the people who use it,” Inoue said.