We created a writing and drawing tool for people with cerebral palsy, specifically those who lack fine motor control. We wanted to create a tool that provided stability, resistance, adjustability, ergonomics, and flexible movement. By doing this, we aimed to create a positive experience for the user. Our goal was to create an assistive tool to allow people with CP to artistically express themselves by making drawing and writing easier.
People with more severe cases of cerebral palsy do not have much control over their environments or their lives, as they have to be constantly assisted and guided. By allowing people with CP to draw, they get to have control over a world of their creation, which is empowering, enjoyable, and has therapeutic benefits.
We talked to an expert in pediatric CP to ask how the patients currently draw at the clinic. He said that they typically squeeze paint tubes, and then play with the paint with their hands. While finger painting can be fun and expressive, it lacks precision and the ability to draw lines or letters. Our drawing tool enables the use of pens, pencils, and markers, which kids can use in a more versatile manner, for example, writing their own name.
The drawing tool works by having a 2-axis sliding system that is controlled by the artist’s arm. Attached to the y-axis slider is an ergonomic “mouse” that holds a pencil, pen, or marker. The artist can use larger movements with their entire arm to move the mouse if they lack fine motor skills.
The x-axis works by having two wheels on the top edge of the table and one wheel underneath, providing a stable side-to-side movement. Also on the x-axis are two ball bearings on the end of the two rods, which allow the entire part to move. There is a clamping mechanism that allows the wheel underneath the table to move up and down, which lets the entire tool be used on a table of any thickness.
The y-axis works by having two rods and a cross piece that supports the artist’s wrist. There is a linear bearing on each rod so that the part can move along the rods, and a strap that adjusts to the artist’s wrist for added stability.
The mouse is designed to spread out the artist’s fingers, which is therapeutic as people with CP often have closed hands, and they need to be opened up regularly to stretch their hand muscles. By pushing down on the mouse, the pen, pencil, or marker is pushed onto the drawing surface. The artist can choose his or her medium, as we designed multiple different holders for writing utensils of different sizes. There is a slot in the mouse where these different attachments can be used. The mouse has ball bearings on the bottom so that it can move in any direction.
We feel that our project met its goal, but there is always room for improvement. We had several ideas for how we could improve the design and ideas that could be incorporated. One idea is to add resistance to the sliders in order to reduce hand tremors. We also considered adding a frame around the mouse with a damper system to negate small movements. Finally, we discussed using rubber to give resistance to the ball and linear bearings.
Our assistive drawing and writing tool shows that art can be for everyone, and that people can move beyond their restrictions by having the freedom to express themselves through artistic creation.