Bloom Magazine

Most of us stand up from the couch with no trouble. We switch on a lamp without incident. It only takes us a couple of seconds to accomplish either task. Imagine you have cerebral palsy, however. Your limbs flail about. You have very little control of that. Standing up from a low couch is difficult. Pressing a small button on the base of a lamp is a challenge. To accomplish either task takes you a few minutes rather than a few seconds – if you can do either task at all.

IKEA’s new line of “hacks” – small products that can be added to their furniture  – aims to help people with disabilities overcome issues related to using IKEA furniture. The new line is part of IKEA’s overall business model, which includes making life better for everyone and improving the planet.

IKEA is not merely a huge cheap furniture brand. The company – which has been in business since 1943 — does more than just strive to be innovative. IKEA is an international company that actively seeks to expand to truly meet customer needs – whether it’s free coffee at the store or implementing more environmentally-friendly policies and products to help the planet.

In Greenwich, England, for instance, a new project called Wildhomes for Wildlife seeks to give animals and birds in the wild new homes, made out of IKEA tables, chairs and lamps. As reported recently in Country Living,  “Created as part of the launch of their sustainable London Greenwich store, IKEA has partnered with London-based artists such as Hattie Newman, Adam Furman, and Supermundane to transform chairs, tables and kitchen worktops into liveable spaces for animals.”

Another initiative, as reported in Reuters, is IKEA’s commitment to using only recycled and renewable materials by 2030. Currently, 60 percent of IKEA products are renewable and ten percent are composed of recycled materials. CEO Torbjorn Loof explained, “Through our size and reach we have the opportunity to inspire and enable more than one billion people to live better lives, within the limits of the planet.”

IKEA’s latest initiative is part of the “living better lives” idea. It aims to make products that help people with cerebral palsy and other physical challenges navigate their environments more easily. Increasing accessibility using simple hacks, like raising the legs of the sofa, is the goal of ThisAbles, IKEA’s new product line.

The ThisAbles project started in Israel. The promotional video notes that one in every ten people in Israel is disabled, and can use special products designed to make life easier. ThisAbles was created in collaboration with two NGO’s, Access Israel and Milbat.

The first challenge was for IKEA to understand what products would be most beneficial for the disabled. The company held a “hackathon” in a store, bringing together engineers and product designers with people in wheelchairs or with disabilities. Thus the IKEA product designers got practical real-world input about what to design. The result? Thirteen new products, each one designed to solve an accessibility issue. Most of the new products are now available to be downloaded and 3-D printed anywhere in the world.  The new products are to be used with existing IKEA products in the world’s first accessible living spaces, according to the company. “They include items like the EasyHandle, a big, Rubbermaid-looking grip that can be added to the seamless door of a Pax shelf, and the Glass Bumper, a plastic pad that protects the bottom of a glass-doored Billy bookcase from the bump of a wheelchair.” (Source, Fast Company.)

IKEA has a unique marketing strategy for ThisAbles products. They market ThisAbles products using videos that show how they benefit disabled people. Actual people star in the videos, not actors.

Here are some of the available products and what they are designed to do:

The Insider

People in wheelchairs often can’t see what’s on a tall bookshelf, out of their sight line. The Insider is a mirror that kits on the Kallax shelves series. Like all the other products, the page on the IKEA site includes a video about it, assembly instructions, and downloadable 3-D printing instructions.

Couch lift

Just as it says, these hollow squared cylinders are designed to hold couch legs and raise a couch several inches, making it easier for those with mobility issues to stand up. Instead of 3-D printing instructions, the website page features instructions for carpenters.

Curtain gripper

Gripping a slippery wet shower curtain can be a challenge. The large plastic handle makes it easy to grip and pull the curtain. It’s designed for use with any shower curtain.

Popup handle

IKEA cabinets have small handles, difficult to grip for someone with poor motor control. The ThisAbles popup handle easily screws in and has a much bigger surface, making for easier pulling or turning.

Cane by me

For those who have to have a cane for walking, the problem of where to store the cane while sleeping is solved by two simple plastic add-ons that provide a “shelf” for the cane to rest on while the person is in bed. Thus, the cane isn’t going to roll under the bed or out of reach. It’s designed for use with the MALM bed series.

IKEA isn’t resting on its accomplishments with the ThisAbles products. They continue to actively seek out new products to help the disabled enjoy their furniture. As they explain on the FAQs page, “On the Website, there is a button inviting everyone to write on any needs that we have not yet solved as part of the products included in the project. We can’t guarantee that we will find a solution to each need, but we can assure you that we will try.”