Industrial - Honours

Kromea Panels

Kromea Panels are customisable panels that can be attached to the sides of power wheelchair armrests to allow people with mobility disabilities to inject their personality into their assistive technology. This project aims to reduce the stigma of power wheelchair use by turning the otherwise predominantly black technology into a platform for self-expression.

People express their style with their glasses – why not with their wheelchair?


The use of a wheelchair – the universal symbol for disability – attracts many assumptions about the users’ abilities and personality far beyond what can realistically be judged. This effect is amplified for power wheelchairs, which tend to suggest to the community a greater level of disability than manual wheelchairs. The stigma attached to power wheelchairs can deter people from moving from manual to power wheelchairs despite the potential improvement in health and quality of life, and add an unnecessary mental burden on those who do use power wheelchairs.

Tackling such deeply ingrained stigma such as that which surrounds assistive technology use is difficult, however progress can be made by improving the aesthetics of the technology to look less medical and serve as a platform for self-expression. The improvement and diversification of the aesthetics of manual wheelchairs and their accessories is already happening, with many manual wheelchairs now quite sleek and accessory lines such as Ffora and Izzy Wheels (pictured below) providing ways to customise the appearance of the chairs. Unfortunately, these accessories are not available for power wheelchairs and the inclusion of colour is limited to a choice of accent colours on the base of the wheelchair. This then inspired the design of Kromea Panels.


I conducted interviews and surveys with both occupational therapists and people with mobility disabilities themselves, revealing the following key findings:

The emotional impact of the aesthetics of assistive technology was found to be quite profound in many people, and several research participants commented on the decreased aesthetic options of the more technical assistive technology such as power wheelchairs. These findings paired drove the project.


The simple design features only two key elements: the mounts and the panels. The mounts can be secured to a range of power wheelchair armrests that provide tracks for T-slot attachments or holes or slots to bolt onto. The exact attachment pieces for the wheelchair model would be determined when purchasing the product by inputting the armrest model into the online store. The mounts become a semi-permanent attachment to the wheelchair armrests.

The panels snap onto the mounts, with 4 mounting tabs available to suit different armrests. The panels have two slots on the bottom similar to the slots used in transfer boards, which make holding the panels easier for people with reduced hand function. A user simply hooks their thumb into the slot and can lever the panel off the mounts so that they can swap the design, with no need for twisting or intricate movements.

To avoid interfering with use of the chair, the panels are only 10cm tall and will not block transfers in and out of the chair when the armrest is raised.

The panels are customised on the online store, with customers able to select existing patterns and recolour them or upload their own images and graphics to be applied. New patterns and designs will continue to be added to the range.

Technical Details

The custom nature of the graphics is made possible due to the utilisation of dye-sublimation printing. Dye-sublimation uses heat and pressure to transfer any desired image from a film onto a suitable surface, such as the Kromea panels. Not only does dye sublimation allow for easy customisation to allow a diverse range of users to express their personal style, the dye-sublimation process binds ink to the material itself rather than applying a cosmetic layer on top, making the graphics highly scratch resistant. Scratch resistance is important as wheelchairs often sustain knocks when manoeuvring around tight spaces and many research participants emphasised their aversion to wheelchair cosmetics that quickly become shabby and imply a lack of care for their products.

The Kromea Panels are injection moulded using a simple 2-piece mould. The panels are made from white PBT plastic, 30% reinforced with glass fibres, to provide appropriate pressure and heat resistance properties to make the panels suitable for the dye sublimation process. Before printing, the panels can be used on either side of the wheelchair with the same form, eliminating the need to create different tooling for both left and right panels.

Emily Boehmer

Emily is a designer passionate about creating delightfully seamless user experiences grounded in research. She loves ideation and problem solving as well as both analogue and digital visualisation to produce and communicate effective design solutions.