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IKEA engage in inspiring and inclusive design in NYC

About 15 percent of the world’s population live with some form of disability. Together with leading experts in the field, IKEA is expanding its OMTÄNKSAM range with the aim of providing better products for them – and ultimately everyone. In mid-October IKEA gathered experts from UNYQ, Two Blind Brothers and Open Style Lab to an inspirational three-day event with lectures and talks in New York.

See the full film from the “MEET THE EXPERTS” event at Chelsea Market, NYC.

IKEA’s vision has always been to create a better everyday life for the many people. That includes all individuals with different kinds of functional needs – from children to the elderly and everyone in between.

Studies show that 15 percent of the world’s population live with some form of disability. With the OMTÄNKSAM range, developed in collaboration with ergonomists, physiotherapists and researchers and launched in 2017, IKEA is helping people overcome obstacles that make it difficult to enjoy an independent everyday life by adding extra comfort and functionality in the products. The name of the range is Swedish for “caring”, a word that describes the products well. Among other things, the range includes comfortable chairs that are easy to get in and out of, cushions that provide support and jar grippers that help you pop those oh-so-tricky lids.

A showroom display with a dining table with chairs, a grey armchair, three patterned rugs, textiles and a big TV screen.

New and existing products from the "OMTÄNKSAM" collection from IKEA, was displayed at the event.

Black, red and white cupboard handles, bowls, glass vases, cushions, stainless-steel pots and white plates on display boxes.

Now, the range is expanding even further. An important next step on the journey towards a truly inclusive home life was taken in New York in mid-October, when a group of selected experts joined forces with IKEA and gathered to brainstorm on solutions that would make life at home easier for everyone. Among the speakers were also the real experts; people with disabilities who have learned to cope with day-to-day challenges in their everyday lives. Participants included representatives from UNYQ, a world leader in the fields of 3D printing and photometry, as well as Open Style Lab and Two Blind Brothers, both acclaimed for their work within inclusive fashion.

We truly believe that better products lead to better homes and better lives.

Over three days, New York’s Chelsea Market became a creative scene for an inclusive and inspiring event where questions around different functional needs – and possible solutions to them – were tackled in a positive, innovative and open way.

A large entrance with walls tiled in black and white, two floor signs and hospitality staff.

A display of prosthetic legs with a mannequin in the centre, in a large showroom.

“We truly believe that better products lead to better homes and better lives. In order to reach our vision of creating a better everyday life for the many people, we need to create solutions for people’s needs and make them available to the many people all over the world,” said Catarina Löwenadler, Deputy Managing Director at IKEA Range & Supply, who delivered the keynote speech at the event.

She continued by highlighting the value of collaborations and learning from each other: “By being innovative in combining products with technology and making that into solutions we can meet individual needs. When we collaborate with others, we can learn about new and important areas that we haven’t explored before. Opening up for new ideas and siding with different people in collaborations is a way to develop and make things better for the everyday life at home.”

A woman speaking from a podium with three men in the background and woman seated on a window ledge.
Catarina Löwenadler, Deputy Managing Director at IKEA Range & Supply.

The experts shared their stories and experiences

One of experts present at the event, Garrison Redd, encouraged people to ask more questions and have an open mind regarding disabilities. Redd was paralyzed from the waist down due to a gunshot wound 13 years ago. In 2017, he founded TheGarrisonReddProject, an organization that provides free resources and assistive equipment to help children with disabilities achieve success. He shared his story with the audience and stressed the importance of having an open mind.

A man in a wheelchair speaking to a group of people.

Garrison Redd shared his thoughts on facing adversity.

Portrait of Garrison Redd engaged in conversation.

“You see, you have two options when you face adversity. Option one is to stay there and option two is get over it. I chose option two – I said I’m gonna get over this and I’m gonna make this world a better place because I’m going to show them how you can achieve anything you put your mind to,” he said, adding:

“I feel that in society, there’s a lack of awareness when it comes to disabilities. All it takes is for someone to just ask – how are you able to do certain things? And once they ask that question they are able to spread that into their universe, to their surroundings, to the people they work with and to people in their environment.”

“Your greatest challenge is your greatest gift”.

Two men on a podium speaking to a group of people in a large showroom.

Above: Bradford and Bryan Manning from Two Blind Brothers on stage. On the right: At the Two Blind Brothers showcase, the visitors where invited to test their touch senses on specially designed fabrics.

A display with mirror balls and grey t-shirts hanging from the ceiling; a long grey drape hangs from each t-shirt.

Bradford Manning from Two Blind Brothers spoke about the importance of technology when developing new solutions that fit the needs of everyone. By combining new technological innovations within individualization with IKEA’s insights about home furnishing it’s possible to personalize products – and remove obstacles that for instance disabilities can present.

“I think one of the big themes right now is the fact that technology, tools and creativity are levelling the playing field,” Manning said.

He also touched on something that’s common for all the experts who attended the event – the strength and creativity they all have been able to show in the face of adversity.

“That moment twenty-five years ago in the doctor’s office when they said ‘You’re going to lose your eyesight’ sounds like one of the few tragic things you can be told. The big irony for us though is that that unleashed a moment in our lives that required us to harness these very, very important human characteristics – the creativity, the resourcefulness and the assertiveness to be successful. It’s given us the community around Two Blind Brothers, it’s given us one of the greatest adventures we’ve had the past two years building it. Your greatest challenge is your greatest gift.”

A woman in a red mobility scooter speaking to a group of people, with MEET THE EXPERTS written on the wall behind her.

Kieran Kern shared her experiences and life hacks, both on stage and among the experts showcases

A showroom display with texts and images on plywood walls, with a white sign above it.

Looking ahead

IKEA couldn’t be more grateful for the fact that these experts now choose to share their knowledge with us. With their help, the company will be developing the OMTÄNKSAM range further. Products for the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are currently in the pipeline – work made all the more important by the fact that hardly any other company in the home furnishing business is addressing these issues.

”We believe that this collaboration is only the start of a constant curious search for ways to make great things accessible for many people. By putting individuality in the center of the product development, combined with our common values and purpose, I really think we can move mountains together. And truly create a better everyday life for the many individual people over the world,” Löwenadler concluded.

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