mimi faulhaber


A research report detailing the design challenges involved with improving accessibility at RISD.

This research report utilizes surveys and interviews, data analysis, user analysis, and legislative analysis to draw conclusions about the state of accessibility at RISD and propose solutions.

What is access?   
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is an arts college that aims to provide the opportunity for a quality arts education to anyone. However, what “anyone” means is highly dictated by RISD’s campus itself and who is allowed to interact with that campus. Things like hill grades, pavement curbs, studio spaces, and stairs present real and significant challenges for those with mobility impairments.

The goal of this project was the evaluate RISD’s campus and determine what access means for the school, the current state of access, and how the campus and school can move forward in the future.
RISD as a campus
The first step in my research was to evaluate RISD as a campus. RISD has a unique geography: the entire campus is situated on the side of a large hill, dubbed “college hill.” Because of this, most of the main pathways through campus are inaccessible.

Currently, there are no wheelchair using students at RISD. Due to the inaccessible road grades, there is no way to navigate to the essential locations on campus without encountering significant roadblocks.

Map of the main throughfares of RISD’s campus. The accessible routes are marked in greed, and the inaccessible routes marked in red.
A elevation map of the main throughfares of RISD’s campus. A greater than 5% grade presents significant challenges, while grades above 8% are completely inaccessible.
Studio Spaces
Current curriculums throughout the school do not provide alternatives or adaptions for students with mobility impairments.

The life blood of an arts and design school lies within its studio and workshop spaces. I wanted to evaluate the Industrial Design (ID) Department workshops as a case study. 
I looked at both the wood and metal shops within the Industrial Design department, as they are a part of the core curriculum for the department. 

I was interested in both the flow of students through the space, and the machines within the shop itself.

By analyzing the floorplan and user flow of the studios I found that some areas of the room were accessible, but many of the machines were completely unusable.
A floorplan of the ID wood shop and a breakdown of the tools in the shop.
Student Experience
Finally, I was interested in the human aspect of the issue. How does accessbility affect student/administration interaction? What resources currently exist?

Through interview with students and staff, I found a serious disconnect between the two groups. Students did not know what resources existed, and staff did not know how to connect with students. A lack of rapport between the groups permeated through these interviews.
A summary of the process that a student would need to go through in order to recieve disability accomadations through the school.
Summary of my interviews with three students with minor/temporary mobility impariments.
In Summary
By analyzing the physical spaces on campus, speaking with students with minor mobility impairments, and interviewing members of the faculty and staff, I found the following issues on RISD’s campus:

1. The road throughout campus was too steep for proper mobility.

2. Studio spaces are extremely cramped and don’t provide accessible altenatives or adaptions for equipment.

3. Students find it difficult to utilize existing resources, and staff don’t know how to ask for student feedback.

Not addressing these issues will only continue to harm RISD in the future, as they miss out on a vibrant and diverse group of students who are not able to access their campus.

What now?

The final phase of this project was dedicated to proposing
different solutions that would address these issues.

These 10 solutions aimed not to completely fix the issue, but instead to start the conversation, and try to move in the right direction.
These solutions were split into three different categories: short, middle, and long term.

Short-term: These proposals were focused on how to adapt what already exists. This includes things like adding adaptable work spaces, and increasing the clarity of information about disability services.

Mid-term: These proposal bridge the gap between adaption and creation. This includes proposals such as a supply carrier to assist students in traversing the hill.

Long-term: These proposals aim to create a new campus by shifting our priorities. This includes things like creating new architectures to circumvent barriers like College Hill.
 Short-term: A proposal for an adjustable work desk for wheelchair users.
Mid-term: A proposal to add architecture to an existing terrace to create a pathway up the hill.
Long-term: A proposal to add a new pathway utilizing an existing bus tunnel to connect the bottom of the hill to the top.
If you would like to learn more, please check out the full report.

Gaming for All

This research report and set of prototypes tackles the development of a one-handed video game controller.

In this project, my partner and I used techniques like market research, user testing, iterative design, rapid prototyping, and technical analysis (FEA) to develop our final prototype.

Games as community
Video games represent an extremely important and often overlooked source of social community and connection for those with disabilities. Around 20% of all casual gamers indentify as having a disability, yet the hardware for gaming remains primarily inaccessible.

During our Engineering capstone, fellow student Emily Esposito and I aimed to create a set of  accessible controllers for a specific user. The controller needed to be cheap and portable, as the user was not a serious gamer, and the controller needed to play any game with only one functional hand (in this case, the right hand).

Based on these parameters, we designed a low cost, 3D-printed attachment to existing controllers that would adapt them to a one handed user.
The final attachment design for the pro controller

ReThe final attachment design for joy-cons
Market Research

The first step in designing these controllers was to understand what the current difficulties were with game hardware.
We found that the brand with the least amount of accessible equipment or workarounds was Nintendo, so we decided to specifically design for the Nintendo Switch game console.

Next, we determined what the core functionality of an accessible controller would need to be. We looked at the top ten best selling Nintendo Switch games and evaluated what controls were integral to the game play.

By far, the most important control mechanism is the left joystick, followed by the A and B buttons.

The XBox Adaptive Controller (XAC) is a great example of what accessible controllers could look like.
A breakdown of the top selling Nintendo Switch games and the controls required to play them.
The Pro Controller
There are two different kinds of controllers for the Nintendo switch: the more traditional Pro Controller and the detachable Joy-Cons. We created two different attachments for each type of controller.

From our playtests, we found that the greatest difficulty for the pro controller was on preserving the ergonomic grip already on the controller while being able to actuate the left joystick. To try to accomplish this, we first experimented with different types of actuator arm.

A test mechanism to activate the left joystick using the right hand.

A variation of the mechanism on the left.
The Final Prototype

The final design features an attachment to the left joystick that will actuate the joystick as the entire controller moves.

There is a small rollerball on the base of the controller to allow it to sit on a table if the user gets tired of holding the controller up.

The entire controller will move to actuate the left joystick.

The final pro controller design.


The Switch Joy-Cons are unique because they are designed to detach from the console in two separate parts. This attachment utlizies this feature and flips one Joy-Con upside down, allowing the Joy-Cons to be operated back-to-back.

An early concept to angle the Joy-Cons so that one could access both Joy-Sticks.

A cardboard sketch model of mechanism used in the final design.
A diagram showing the mechanism of the design.

The first 3D-printed prototype, utilizing the final mechanism.

Structural Analysis
In addition to utilizing user testing, we also created a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) simulation to identify the ideal thickness for the cantilevered attachment arm.

Using this analysis and the design parameter of limitingdeformation to 2mm, we determined that the ideal arm thickness is between 5 and 7.5mm.

Diagram illustrating the various forces the arm will experience during use.

Deformation result from the analysis of the 2.5mm thick arm.

Part Thickness vs Displacement for all of the simulations.

The Final Prototype

The final model uses the same concept as the prototype, but optimizes it for ease of use.

The base can rest on a table, or slide into a leg rest. 
This project is intended to add to the ever growing catalogue of open source adaptions for those with disabilities. One of the powers of 3D printing is the ability to work at small scale, since those with disabilities often make up a portion of the market too small of companies to invest for large scale production.

This project leverages 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and user research to create something that can change the landscape of accessible gaming.

Balancing Act

In this prototype, I developed an app and wearable that helps the user reflect on and balance their daily rituals.

I utilized techniques like empathy mapping, iterative design, user feedback, A-B testing, and both work-alike (Microsoft Visual Studio) and look-alike prototyping to develop a compelling design.

This project was an exploration into the way that we interact with work and daily tasks.

It started with a simple experiment to keep track of every completed task. How would recording each success throughout my day change the my approach to work?

Keeping a record of completed tasks

Final wearable bracelet design
Keeping Track
I found that by marking my successes during the day, I started to create a positive motivation cycle: reflecting on a completed task increased my motivation, which in turn increased my productivity.

I had several of my friends complete the same exercise, and came to the following conclusions:

The act of “checking off a box” creative positive motivation


Seeing both the amount and the type of success was helpful in evaluating current productivity strategies.

From these conclusions, I designed a simple app to take advantage of this positive motivation cycle. The app would allow users to log a “success” through either a wearable bracelet or an app interface. The user would be able to specify the type of “success” either by double tapping the bracelet, or tapping a separate checkbox in the app.

At the end of the day, the user will be able to view a generated visualization of their successes, and reflect on the day, week, or month.

Empathy map for logging a success
Developing the interface
The main concern when developing the interface was the keep it simple and streamlined. The visualization was generated by the app using a voronoi algorithm, and the user can modify the type of “successes” they wish to add. They can balance “work” and “life,” “food” and “water,” or anything they wish.

The visualization was designed to be satisfying to look at as the user builds up entries, while also clearly communicating the balance by using contrasting colors.

Color variations for the visualization

Final interface mockup + prototype

ADA 1.0

I create a working prototype for an inclusive body form for Open Style Lab.

I utilized techniques like CAD modeling (Rhino), 3D rendering, and laser cutting to create a prototype and renders.

Accessibility In Fashion   
Clothing is an often overlooked part of our designed work that can present just as many barriers to differently abled bodies as a staircase or sidewalk curb. During my time as an intern for Open Style Lab and Eray Carbajo, I worked to create a prototype of an inclusive body form that would represent different body types.

The goal of this project was to raise awareness for disability within the world of fashion by creating more inclusivity in the world of retail fashion.

Please check out this video to learn more about the project: