Age doesn’t matter – Barbara Knickerbocker-Beskind is the modern day epitome of this timeless adage. Being active at the age of 91 is no joke but nothing can hinder this woman from living her dream of inventing.
A Promising Start
At the young age of 8, she already knew that she wanted to become an inventor. She started tinkering with car tyres to make toys since everyone made everything during the Depression years of 1930s. She got her creativeness for her mother and being observant from her father. Life may have been tough during those fateful years since her father had no job for seven years but it didn’t stop them from moving forward.
She didn’t have the chance to enter an engineering school since girls were forbidden to do so at that time. Instead, she became a graduate of Home Economics School of Syracuse University at the end of World War II. Immediately after that, she became a trainee of the Army’s Occupational Therapy. This launched her career as an occupational therapist. She eventually retired as a major after 20 years of service.
It was during those years that she encountered many types of diseases and epidemics. She had the opportunity to help paralysed patients using leg braces and various apparatus so that they could stand and sit.
Becoming A Designer At 90
Many years have passed and Beskind is now a retired therapist, private practitioner, author and artist. Who would have thought that a TV programme would change the course of her life?
She saw David Kelly, IDEO founder, speak. IDEO is a well-known international design consultancy company. Beskind wrote to the company that she is in good health and she wants to surround herself with people who have a passion for problem-solving and innovative design. In particular, she could help with designs on low vision and senior/ baby-boomer products. IDEO enlisted her to be part of its design team. She’s now living in Silicon Valley.
For Beskind, her age is perfect addition to the youthful team in the design department of IDEO. She is the only one who could provide an elderly perspective to their plans. According to her, designs for the elderly should come directly from the retired community and not from the perceived idea of others who will not use it.
Smart Glasses. Beskind has macular degeneration, which means that her central vision is already lost but her peripheral vision still works. His vision handicap has not stopped her from being creative. She mounted a camera with face and voice recognition features at the bridge of a pair glasses. It could detect the identity of an approaching person before they reach her by announcing the name.
Trekker. This is her work-in-process project. It is a walker for seniors that could improve posture and balance. Since seniors are prone to tripping and falling down, she is considering the inclusion of airbags.
Fall Prevention Airbags. Living amongst a community of seniors, Beskind is well aware that falls happen rather frequently. She has tried designing air bags of graded sizes that would activate when falls are detected. However, she is not sure what sort of power source would incorporate best with her design.
Walking Poles. Instead of using long canes to aid in walking, she bought a pair of ski poles and tweaked it a bit. She modified the handles and stuck red and white tapes as a form of communication to tell other people that she has a problem with her vision.
A New Generation
Even though there are technological products in the market that could help her with her eyesight, she chose not to. She wants to live her life not being harnessed to computers or phones. For her, it hinders the awareness of people to their surroundings since they are focused on their gadgets. She is contended by having time and silence as her companions and her fellow creative dreamers in Silicon Valley as her friends.
Barbara Beskind is a role model, an inspiration, a designer and last but not least, an inventor.
The field of designing senior and baby-boomer products will need more and more talent as the world’s population ages. New generation medical alert systems and devices are ready for cutting-edge design concepts that incorporate the capabilities upcoming Internet of Things technologies with the function of helping seniors live safely and independently.