This thesis examines the marriage of socially conscious design with wearable health technology. The research focuses on the socio-psychological aspects of living with a chronic illness and as a cyborg of modem medicine. As a case study, I explore design solutions that aim to alleviate or address social and psychological problems experienced by Type I Diabetic women who use an insulin pump. People living with Type I Diabetes are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and eating disorders than their non-diabetic peers. Individuals who choose to use an insulin pump are able to achieve better metabolic control but often suffer from body image anxiety in social and intimate situations. Studies have shown that physiological health relies heavily on socio-psychological well-being.
I have found, through primary and secondary research, that endocrinologists rarely inquire about the everyday struggle of their patients. As a result, many Type I Diabetics feel isolated with their illness and some seek refuge and even medical advice in Type I Diabetic social networking websites and grassroots support groups. This thesis intends to find more dynamic ways to create social support and empowerment in everyday environments. I have investigated how social bonds are created both verbally, through the sharing of story, and non-verbally, through clothing. My work is an exploration and exposure of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors experienced by Type 1 Diabetics through research and various design implementations. I argue that social models of health-related product design can and should play a role in addressing or alleviating the internal struggles of modem medicine's cyborg. After exploring various avenues of research, I follow a user-centered design approach that aims to solve current problems experienced by women from a New York based support group called ACT 1 Diabetes. The culminating product of this research combines the functional with the decorative; it is a collection of inserts and interchangeable fashion pieces for the insulin pump. The designs, influenced by transformation in nature and mythological story, they adorn the device and become an empowering accessory and ultimately a fashion statement. They function by creating a dynamic community that encourages sharing stories, spreading awareness, and developing new relationships with medical technology.
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