Accessibility: 3D Printed Tactile Pregnancy Test for Visually Impaired Women

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Taking a pregnancy test, and learning the results, is an incredibly private, personal moment, no matter what result you’re hoping to get. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case if you’re visually impaired. That’s because these tests use visual displays, such as lines and plus or minus signs, so visually impaired people have to ask another person, whether it’s someone they know or not, to tell them what the test says. But thanks to a 3D printed prototype, developed by the UK’s Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), pregnancy tests could be more accessible in the future, giving visually impaired women their much-needed privacy.

The tactile pregnancy test, which features nodules that become raised when the result is positive, is part of the Design For Everyone campaign by RNIB, which is the largest sight loss charity in the UK and works to create a more inclusive world for blind and visually impaired people. This specific campaign is challenging businesses and designers to keep accessibility at the forefront.

“From dealing with finances to accessing private medical information, privacy matters no matter who you are. But blind and partially sighted people are often denied their right to privacy due to inaccessible design and information. Taking a pregnancy test is a poignant example of this, as blind and partially sighted women often have no choice but to involve other people in reading their results. Meaning their private news is made public,” the website states.

“Accessible design matters, and to prove it’s possible, we’ve created a pregnancy test prototype that would allow women to be the first to know their own news.”

According to the RNIB, two million women of childbearing age in the US, China, and Europe have some vision loss. Because the majority of pregnancy tests use visual ways to announce the result, like digital screens or changing colors, blind and visually impaired women need to have someone else, like a family member, friend, or even a neighbor, tell them the results, which is the exact opposite of privacy. Be My Eyes, which is a really great free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers, even partnered with pregnancy test maker ClearBlue to offer its own volunteers to read pregnancy test results, but I honestly don’t know if it would be better or worse to have a complete stranger tell you. But at least the volunteers are trained, so there’s less of a chance that they may react in a way that, without meaning to, could be offensive.

In the Mashable video above, 36-year-old Danielle Cleary, who’s been blind her whole life, said, “There have been quite a few times in my life where I’ve had to take a pregnancy test. And to not be able to do that independently is embarrassing, demeaning. It’s just so difficult having to rely on someone else to give you that kind of information when there is no reason why visually impaired women shouldn’t be treated the same way as any other woman.”

This new design for a more accessible, tactile test lets blind and visually impaired women literally take matters into their own hands: the results show up as bumps that can be felt with your fingers. The prototype is also large and bright, with contrasting colors, all of which are helpful features for women who may still have some vision.

With digital pregnancy tests, women typically have to pee on a stick, and the results show up as one or two lines, depending on whether there’s enough of the pregnancy hormone hCG present. Then, an optical sensor reads the lines and displays either a ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ answer on the LCD screen. This new 3D printed tactile prototype works pretty much the same way, except that instead of presenting the results visually, the optical sensor does so with mechanical results. If the test is positive, bumps will appear on the tactile pad that’s on top of the test.

People have often turned to 3D printing in the past to make tactile products that are more accessible to blind or visually impaired people. In this case, RNIB’s tactile pregnancy test prototype appears to have been 3D printed on an Ultimaker system. The device also features a bumpy control button on the bottom that’s raised so users won’t confuse it with the tactile pad on top that provides the results. Additionally, the tip is 50% larger for easier touch navigation, and there are differently textured surfaces as well.

As of now, this tactile pregnancy test is just a prototype, but I hope in the near future, it becomes a more available option. In its research, RNIB mentioned a 2018 Accenture study, which found that “companies which embrace inclusive design outperform their competitors, meaning there is a financial and business benefit to taking accessible design seriously.”

“Businesses have a real chance to innovate their products profitably, while delivering on the needs of a group whose spending power is often ignored,” the RNIB researchers noted.

In hopes that someone will take its great idea and run with it, RNIB has publicly posted the CAD design for its 3D printed prototype. Unfortunately, because this pregnancy test requires components not used in most typical options, it will likely cost more, which is a negative point in terms of accessibility. But it’s at least a step in the right direction.

(Sources: Science Friday / Gizmodo)

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