A British charity has developed a prototype pregnancy test that displays results by raising tactile silicone bumps, rather than displaying text or lines on a screen.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People, or RNIB, this week introduced the reimagined urine-stick test, which features an absorbent pad that is 50% larger than the average and a contrasting yellow-and-pink color scheme to help the user distinguish between the top and bottom of the device.
When urine is absorbed by the pad it triggers an internal motor to raise the first tactile bump on the underside of the device. If pregnancy hormones are detected, another set of bumps is raised on top, indicating a positive result.
The device was developed to address not only blind women’s difficulty in reading a test, but the lack of privacy afforded to them when they take one, said RNIB chairwoman Eleanor Southwood. Women who are unable to read the result of a test often have to ask their partner, friend or neighbor to do so for them, meaning they are not the first to know about their own pregnancy, she said.
And in some cases, women may not want their partners or family members to know the outcome, Ms. Southwood added.
“One woman we spoke to had to ask someone to read her pregnancy test, and when it came back negative they said, ‘Well, it’s probably for the best, isn’t it?’” Ms. Southwood said. “That meant she was forced to deal with the person’s response before the matter of her own pregnancy.”
The test was devised by London-based designer Josh Wasserman, who met with blind women in their homes as part of the design process. He considered the idea of a test that conveyed the result through sound, but rejected it after finding that women wanted an experience that others couldn’t listen to—accidentally or on purpose, he said.
“There are a lot of people out there who are not hoping for a positive result,” Mr. Wasserman said, “and it’s hard to create audio that isn’t positive-sounding or negative-sounding. You don’t have that problem with something that’s tactile.”
The prototype is being tested by a small group of blind users.
RNIB has published the research methods and industrial design of the device in the hope that health-care corporations will take notice of the work, and either produce the prototype or build their own accessible pregnancy tests, Ms. Southwood said.
Some of these companies are already aware of the situation.
Clearblue, a pregnancy-test brand produced by Swiss Precision Diagnostics GmbH, in 2019 struck up a partnership with the Be My Eyes app, which connects blind and low-vision people in need of assistance with sighted volunteers through a live video call. Clearblue advisers use the platform to field questions from blind people about taking a pregnancy test, and understanding the result, said Sally Haworth, community and careline manager at Clearblue.
Clearblue’s research and development team is now offering consulting to RNIB free of charge to “find new ways to make pregnancy tests and other medical devices totally accessible,” Ms. Haworth said.
Finding a company to mass-produce the RNIB test may prove difficult, however. The limited customer base will mean production costs will remain higher than for tests already on the market, Mr. Wasserman said, adding that he remains hopeful that a manufacturer would pick up the design nonetheless.
A better option might be to work with health-care companies to produce a pregnancy test that can be used by both sighted and blind people, Ms. Southwood said.
“If I needed to take a pregnancy test, I wouldn’t want to make a big deal of it in the pharmacy and have to explain that I need a particular type because I’m blind,” Ms. Southwood said. “The dream is to buy any pregnancy test with the knowledge that it’s accessible.”
Write to Katie Deighton at email@example.com
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