Edinburgh housing charity seeks out the latest inventions to improve living standards for those with mental and physical disabilities
Nine innovations designed to make life easier for people with physical or mental disabilities have been shortlisted in this year’s Blackwood Design Awards. They include glasses for computer users who don’t have the use of their arms, and a wheelchair which goes up and down steps.
Among the other inventions set to battle it out in the Dragons’ Den-inspired event – hosted each year by Blackwood, an Edinburgh-based charity – are a temperature-regulating wheelchair cushion dubbed ‘Wheelair’, universal drinks holder, and brace to help people with knee weakness or injury stand and walk more independently.
The awards are designed to help find rising design stars and champion new, innovative ideas which will improve standards of living for those living with disabilities.
According to Blackwood, dozens of entries have been received for this year’s competition, which will culminate in a final on Friday, 20 January at Dundee Contemporary Arts centre, where the nine selected inventors will pitch for the top prize.
This year, for the first time, the competition comprises two distinct categories – Best New Product, in which there are four finalists, and Best New Concept, which has five shortlisted entries.
The winner will receive a cash prize of £2,000 from sponsor Kingdom Gas, and backing from Blackwood to make their creative design into a working reality.
The nine competing entries are:
Best New Product
1) C-Brace – A brace for people who have either a weakness in the knee or an injury that impairs their ability to stand/walk independently. It is relatively discreet and could make the difference between being confined to a wheelchair/mobility scooter and being able to remain upright and walking.
2) FRIEASEL – A manoeuvrable canvas that can be adjusted so someone with severe disabilities can paint independently, which could have hugely therapeutic benefits.
3) Drink Universal Holder – A product that is fixed to a person’s wheelchair and can fit nearly any kind of glass.
4) Glassouse – A set of light-weight glasses that are suitable for computer users who do not have the use of their arms. It remotely links to the computer and the mouth piece serves as a mouse. Biting down on it acts as a click.
Best New Concept
1) Argonault – A versatile concept wheelchair that can go up and down steps and pavement edges as well as go up to cupboards.
2) MeBot – Similar in some respects to the Argonault in that it is a wheelchair that can go up and down steps, but a different design by a different company.
3) RT-Movers – A really smart wheelchair that can also go up and down steps. It differs from the others is that it has great stability and suspension and the mechanism of the wheels make it really good for going over uneven or bumpy terrain.
4) Wheelair – A temperature regulating cushion for people whose body doesn’t communicate well with their brain and causes difficulty getting their body temperature right.
5) Eye-wink – A system to control a phone without hands, which uses winks to go back and forth in the options. Very useful for anyone who has limited hand movement or poor dexterity in their fingers.
The competition has seen its previous winners go on to achieve success, and this year’s entries have come from all over the globe, with competitors located as far away as China and Russia.
Last year’s winner, Grant Douglas, was delighted to see his S’up Spoon product – an unspillable spoon to aid those with shaky hands as a result of cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s – take home the coveted prize.
He said: “We entered Blackwood’s Design Awards last year as we share its aim to enable disabled people to live as independently as possible through designing accessible products in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
“Over the past nine months, the S’up Spoon has been featured on BBC One’s Songs of Praise. We’ve also donated 10 spoons to a voluntary organisation that helps disabled people in South Africa and it now has packaging so it can be sold in shops and is currently on sale via Amazon.
“Having won the competition, it is fantastic to know that our product is now revolutionising mealtimes for people around the world and we wish all those shortlisted this year the very best of luck. Take it from us – it truly is an incredible opportunity.”
Colin Foskett, head of innovation at Blackwood, believes the competition is a perfect example of the Blackwood ethos and says this year’s move to two categories will double the chances to identify and champion breakthroughs that improve life for those with disabilities.
He said: “We’ve been delighted with the way the annual awards have caught the imagination and developed into an important way to bring through genuinely revolutionary products.
“By having the additional category for this year’s competition, we are aiming to support, and promote even more new design talent. Some of the products we have previously seen have benefited the lives of so many people and the designs by this year’s nine shortlisted finalists are no different.
“At Blackwood, our aim is to enable our customers to live their life to the full and by investing in future technologies and equipment we believe we are successfully able to do this.
“Many previous entrants have gone on to achieve great things so we wish all our finalists the best of luck for this year.”
Blackwood works in 29 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, making it more widely dispersed than most other care or housing providers.
It has embraced the challenges of taking housing and care into innovative areas at a time when funding is increasingly limited and is renowned for constantly pushing the boundaries of technology to allow property adaptations which make a huge difference to people with disabilities.