One of the highlights of my career was watching a young man with cerebral palsy, a client, propel himself forward for the first time in an electric wheelchair bought with his compensation. He was not able to use a traditional button switch, and so we had commissioned a special sensory board that meant he could control the chair by waving his hand over it. His face glowed with joy as he tasted independence for the very first time.
Sadly these opportunities are all too rare. The relatively small numbers involved mean that such specialist equipment is very expensive to commission and produce and is currently available to only a few. Despite the best efforts of all involved, local authorities struggle to provide even the bare minimum to meet the equipment needs of disabled children and adults. Such equipment is also often clumsy and unattractive, functional but lacking style.
I was therefore encouraged to hear “You and Yours” on Radio 4 on Thursday 13 September 2012 featuring a design exhibition hosted by the Swedish ambassador in London, showcasing the latest in Swedish design for specialist equipment for seniors and those with disabilities. Special care has been taken to ensure that the products were not only functional but modern and stylish. The programme described eye control units, braille printers, and an electrode suit for those with movement difficulties.
Society’s interest in specialist equipment for those with disabilities has no doubt been increased by watching our Paralympic heroes achieve so much. It is to be hoped that this interest and exhibitions like that featured on Radio 4 might trigger a revolution in the design and production of specialist equipment leading to increased demand and production in higher volumes to reduce costs and make such equipment available to a much wider audience.
It is important to acknowledge that there are many who have been campaigning for and working towards this for a long time and I cannot let the moment pass without mentioning a UK charity that I came across recently - DEMAND (Design and Manufacture for Disability - Registered Charity No. 1008128) which transforms the lives of people with disabilities by providing bespoke equipment with the help of voluntary donations and fund raising - and no doubt there are others. Developing the support of such organisations and a greater awareness and focus on the design, style, cost effectiveness and availability of specialist equipment for all those who have need of it would be a fantastic way to ensure that the much talked of “legacy” has substance.