Julia is a Designer!

Final Swipe


 For Open Style Lab - Design for Disability

2017 - 2018


Swipe is a portable and cost effective assistive device that helps people who suffer from paralysis in their hands and arms swipe a NYC Metro Card, so that they can commute via the NYC Subway independently. Users can be but not limited to people who are diagnosed with: ALS, Parkinson's Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis(MS), Severe Arthritis and recovering Stroke patients.

Swipe is a project that started simultaneously with Unparalleled. I have continued to develop the product independently while working as a Product Design Research Assistant at Open Style Lab and as the designer in residence at Core77 x A/D/O.

christina metroswipe.jpg

The Problem

The project started when I met Christina, a young professional living in NYC who has a type of ALS that caused paralysis in both her arms after being in a car accident. Soon I realized that 20% of people living in NYC have a disability. Within the physical disabled community, the most challenging problems they face is mobility and employment.

The NYC Subway is the most commonly used way of transportation in the city, with over 6 million people riding it everyday. The NYC Subway was built 114 years ago and is one of the oldest public transportation systems, which means that many of its systems, infrastructure, and services are not updated or properly maintained. One of the most simple challenges that the disabled community face is that they are not even able to swipe a metro card to access the subway.


What is Paralysis?

Paralysis is the loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body, typically as a result of illness, aging or injury. Paralysis can vary from fatigue, to slight, moderate and severe weakness in the muscles, to paralyzation. Most paralysis related diseases have no cure and conditions will worsen overtime. 

1 in 50 people in the US people suffer with paralysis in some form or another.

Source: Christopher and Reeve Foundation




What causes Paralysis?

Various kinds of physical impairment can cause paralysis in one's  arms and hands. It could either be attained by birth or developed through injury or aging.

Common causes include: ( with est. # of people affected in the US)

  • Recovering Stroke Victims - 795,000 per year

  • Parkinson's Disease - 1 Million

  • Spinal Cord Injury - 17,500 per year

  • Peripheral Neuropathy - 20 Million (in some form or another)

  • Osteoarthritis - 21 Million

  • Multiple Sclerosis - 400,000

  • Cerebral Palsy - 500,000

  • ALS (Motor Neurone Disease) - 30,000

  • Various forms of Muscular Dystrophy 


Other rarer causes include: Cerebrovascular accident, Peripheral artery disease, Peripheral neuropathy, Peripheral nerve trauma, Peripheral nerve compression, Impingement syndrome, Compartment syndrome, Bone fracture, Hypokalaemia, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), Myasthenia gravis, etc.

Photo source: mayoclinic.org

Photo source: mayoclinic.org

Source: The Christopher and Reeve Foundation

Source: The Christopher and Reeve Foundation


The Solution

Swipe aims to help people with weakness or paralysis with both arms swipe a NYC metro card with a compact, affordable and practical assistive device. We believe that enabling people with disabilities to access public transportation is the first step to helping them become more independent, mobile and inclusive to their community.


Field Research

Meet the Users

I worked with a number of user groups that would possibly benefit from a metro card assistive device. I determined three main demographics that can benefit the most, but not limited to only these three challenges. 


Christina Mallon - ALS (Flail Arm Syndrome)

Age: 29 , Profession: Digital Marketing Manager

Range of Motion with Hands and Arms: None

Uses the subway for: going to work and hanging out with friends


User 2


User Three


Their Current Solutions


Christina - ALS

Christina is completely unable to swipe a metro card by herself without assistance. Christina has a nurse who walks her to her nearest subway station every morning to swipe her metro card so that she could commute to work. When her nurse isn't present, she would usually keep her metro card in her shoe, and ask strangers to help her. Sometimes, she simply jumps over the entrance because she doesn't want to explain her situation to strangers over and over again. Because of this, Christina says she does not go out as much as she would like.

Christina, like most of us, relies on her phone, credit card and money to get by the day. Christina usually stores her money and cards in her shoe for easy access. She uses a lanyard to keep her phone close to her side. The lanyard is long enough so that she could put it on and take it off. There are retractable cords so that she could pull down her phone with her foot and type on it. The lanyard is also made of leather, in order for it to be structural enough for Christina to pull her neck through.

christina personal belongings.jpg

Sam - Cerebral Palsy

Dexterity within Paralysis


subway entrance.jpg

How can we help people with limited mobility achieve public accessibility?


indentifying the constraints



FIller Text



Since the current NYC Metrocard is made of a cardstock material, the Metro card bends easily if not held gently. If the Metro card is not in a flat position, the card reader is not able to read the strip correctly.

subway (1).jpg


New York City is an extremely fast paced environment, and more than 6 million people rely on the NYC subway daily. Reliability of its functionality is extremely important at the turnstiles when many other people are trying to get on the subway as well.


Many times, even people with completely abled bodies have trouble swiping a MetroCard.

Source: ABC News

Source: ABC News

Design Process


During the ideation phase, I brainstormed ideas on something that can be compact, lightweight and practical. I also wanted to keep it as simple and intuitive as possible for the user, their possible caregivers, and metro workers. Ultimately, I decided on something that has no mechanics or electronics in order to limit the weight, and will not require battery charging or maintenance because it would be a difficult task for someone with limited mobility. 

ideation osl.jpg

Building a Card Reader

I went to measure a real Card Reader in the NYC subway so that I could have a physical reference of it. This is used so that I can design Swipe appropriately to fit the exact measurements. 

measurements for car reader.jpg

3D Printing -

Materials and Methods



Through the prototyping process, I considered a variety of possible issues and scenarios and set a list of design criteria.

  • Card must stay in place firmly and not bend.

  • Must be easy and fast enough to use so that it doesn't frustrate other subway commuters.

  • Card must be easily taken out and put back into the device. It must be intuitive to the person helping Christina refill/replace her card when necessary.

  • The length of the strap must be adjustable so that she can don on and off it and also use it.

  • The entry point of the strap must be held open for successful donning and doffing.

  • Magnets have to be strong enough to adhere to the card reader, but also reducing friction so that Christina can push it through easily.

prototypes 2 device.jpg
prototypes device 1.jpg

User Testing


Final Design

The final design is 3D printed with PLA with a TPU neckpiece. we incorporated the following details to ensure that the assistive device is both functional and practical.

  • Reducing the mass to make it as compact as possible

  • Lip and groove snap closure with indent on one side so that it is easy to open and close - Eliminates hardware

  • Wheel magnets to provide holding power and reduces friction

  • Retractable lanyard strap that allows length adjustment for donning and doffing

  • Flexible neckpiece to keep the lanyard stretched open for donning

  • Tight fit clip to prevent Metrocard from slipping out or bending

side view metrocard.jpg
Exploded View

Exploded View

User Scenario

This is how we envision how people will interact and use the assistive device.