Attention All Innovators

Today NESTA, a charity dedicated to supporting ideas that can help improve lives, together with the Government’s Office for Disability Issues and Innovate UK, an organisation for funding, supporting and connecting innovative businesses, all joined forces to launch the Inclusive Technology Prize. This is a competition to find and develop innovative solutions to problems experienced by disabled people. I’m very excited about this prize, being both a design geek and a disabled person. I’m even more excited because I’ve been invited to be one of the judges.

As my tics have intensified over the last four years many ordinary tasks, like making a cup of tea, have turned into extreme sports. This’s meant I’ve spent a lot of time sourcing, adapting and dreaming up products I can use safely and independently.

Sometimes this involves adapting products designed for a different use. For example at night I go to bed with a wireless doorbell buzzer which I can press to alert my support worker if my tics intensify and I need help. This was a much, much cheaper solution than anything more specialised, and it’s easy to take with me if I’m staying away from home. It required one adaptation: my ‘buzzer-buddy’, a sweatband into which I push the buzzer. I wear it round my wrist so it’s always within reach when I need it.

This is one of the many practical interventions I rely on. I don’t consider myself an athlete but even so I do a lot to keep the sports industry going with my consumption of volleyball kneepads, rugby helmets and boxing inner gloves. The humble drinking straw has also come to my rescue many times. It’s a simple universal product that makes the difference between me being able to have a drink with my friends independently, and needing someone to help with every mouthful – or getting very wet.

Here’s a drawing I’ve just made of some of the things on which I rely on all the time.

This picture was only possible because technology enables me to draw things in stages, scan them in, and then clean them up using my computer. Without this, my arm tics make drawing nearly impossible for me.

Good design has made a huge difference to my life. A prime example is my new all terrain wheelchair which has enabled me to push myself along outdoors, and move confidently on rough ground at work. It also means I can now travel next to the people I’m with, instead of being pushed by them, and that’s made a big difference to how I feel.

But there’s a long way to go. All too often products related to disability are expensive, poorly designed and ugly. My experiences have taught me that making things inclusive often makes them better and that there’s very little that can’t be overcome with creative thinking and persistence.

The £50,000 Inclusive Technology Prize aims to kick-start imagination, creative thinking and innovative ideas. You don’t have to be a designer to get involved, the challenge is open to everyone, and you can enter as an individual, a group or an organisation. Here’s how the organisers define their aims:

“We are looking for innovation in products, technologies and systems that enable disabled people, their families, friends and carers’ equal access to life’s opportunities. Innovations must involve co-creation with disabled people and can relate to any aspect of life including, but not limited to, education, home, leisure, transport and work.”

You can find out more on the awards website. It includes a section where you can put forward your own wishes and ideas. I’ve already posted a wish for a phone app to help me organise the rota for my support workers, spot any gaps, make bookings, and stay within my budget. So if you’ve got a wish of your own, or a potential solution, do get involved now.

I can’t wait to see where this prize leads. It’ll only be exciting and innovative if lots of people get behind it so please share this blog with anyone you think is up for the challenge.

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