A helping hand for those who can use only one arm

His late uncle loved to cook for the family, but could use only his right arm after a stroke a few years ago.

Once, his uncle was struggling with scraping ingredients off a pot and he helped him by tilting it, said research assistant Loren Lim, 25.

"He told me how small gestures like this were helpful, and that got me thinking about how to address challenges faced by people with one functioning arm," he said.

Mr Lim, an industrial design graduate from the National University of Singapore, went on to create Oneware, a kitchenware project which recently won a design award.

It helps people with just one functioning arm - such as stroke victims, amputees and people with hand injuries - to cut fruits and wash dishes more easily. People without disabilities, such as mothers carrying their children or people cutting food while speaking on the phone, could also benefit.

Last week, the Oneware project beat 14 others to be named the Singapore winner of this year's James Dyson Award, which has 22 countries taking part. The global winner will be announced on Oct 27.

The award is run by the James Dyson Foundation, a charity set up by Sir James Dyson, the founder of British technology firm Dyson who is known for inventing the bagless vacuum cleaner.

Graphic designer Kelley Cheng, who has been in the business for more than 25 years, was one of the local judges.

She said: "Oneware is a winner as it is a socially conscious invention that looks into daily problems faced by the less fortunate. It is a simple design with a clear functionality."

Oneware consists of a main frame with modular units such as a special chopping board and a silicone mat for the washing of dishes.

The chopping board has small structures, like tines on a fork, that help to hold food in place so it can be cut with just one hand holding a knife, without the need for another hand to hold the food.

The silicone mat has holes - so water goes through - and small circular bumps that form a grip so dishes are held in place when people exert strength in scrubbing the dishes.

Mr Lim told The Straits Times that designing the silicone grip was challenging - there were more than 50 design iterations of it.

"The material had to be of the right tension and flexibility. Even the design of the bumps was considered. If the bump was like a small cross, it could collect dust," he said.

A section of Oneware also allows people to hook on, with one hand, a plastic bag for food waste, instead of using two hands to line a small pail with the plastic bag. Mr Lim took about a year to develop Oneware, interviewing potential users and getting them to try it out.

Ticketing officer Muhammad Afiq, 24, whose left arm was amputated after a car accident, tried Oneware and found it very helpful.

"(In the past), the frustration that I got from washing dishes was really high because they keep moving when I want to scrub them. But with Oneware, the plates and utensils stay on that net and I can scrub them without worrying," he said.

Mr Lim said there are still some refinements needed, and he is in talks with manufacturers to see how production can be made cheaper and where it can be distributed.

While Oneware is not on sale yet, he will visit the headquarters of furniture giant Ikea in Sweden in November, as he also won this year's Ikea Singapore Young Designer Award. "I think it's a good opportunity to work towards the possibility of it being part of a product in Ikea," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Lim believes his late uncle, who died last year, would have been proud of his work. "He liked to help people, so I think he'd like this kind of products to be out in the market, helping people."

This article was first published on September 13, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.