What can a chair do? With the right features meeting specific needs, a lot.
Herschel Ruben designed the Compressent desk chair for autistic and other neurodivergent people who experience overstimulation of the nervous system and need a calming mechanism to be productive in their everyday lives.
Ruben is working with Baltimore-based American Bully Manufacturing to bring the prototype he thought up for his thesis at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to life. The thesis focused on helping neurodiverse people who have issues with proprioception, that sixth sense that helps a person identify where they are in space. He noted the lack of tools for adults in the market to manage sensory regulation at home or in a workplace environment.
The company is currently making its way through 2022 UP/Start Venture Competition. Ruben won the $500 People’s Choice Award in the opening pitch round to make it as one of the eight finalist out of 42 companies that applied to the MICA accelerator.
Andrew Sherman, CEO of American Bully Manufacturing, applauded Ruben for his innovation and noted his own company’s interest in supporting the next generation of product designers.
“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but if you have a better, cooler-looking wheel, make it,” Sherman said about product development. “The market is going to speak for itself, but if you truly believe in something, we make that dream come true.”
Ruben himself was diagnosed as being on the spectrum when he was 12. Seeing the chair in schools, workplaces and homes is an opportunity to normalize some of the coping mechanisms neurodiverse people use, like hugging themselves, which the Compressent chair simulates, he said.
“So many people are on the spectrum that you don’t even realize,” Ruben said — 15 to 20% across the world. “I think it’s really important that can be recognized and brought into more everyday lives so people can better function and manage their interaction with the world.”
Check out this video about the chair’s development:
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.