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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Firms urged to back design talent
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Disability Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of an accessible heating timer
Heating timers are among the devices to have been redesigned
Design students who create products for disabled people are hoping to attract the attention of manufacturers at an exhibition in London this week.

Among the ideas are user-friendly central heating timers and phones, and storage for those with limited reach.

There is also a toilet seat designed for children with cerebral palsy.

The students hope the Independent Living Exhibition will be an opportunity to turn ideas for more usable everyday devices into reality.

The London Metropolitan University is one of many showcasing its students' talent. They are studying for an MA in Design Research for Disability, and have come up with a number of innovative technologies and products.

"I hope by being at this show that we'll generate interest from end-users and from the trade," said Warren Goodland, an occupational therapist who is studying for the qualification.

"Our course is unique because it involves a combination of individuals from design and therapy backgrounds who share knowledge and ideas to research and create prototypes together."

Everyday devices

Mr Goodland conducted research among people aged over 65.

He found that items which were the most difficult to use were video recorders, vacuum cleaners, central heating timers and telephones.

He decided to concentrate on timers and phones because both are vital to a person's well-being.

Among telephone users, he found the most common problem was dialling.

Highlights of Independent Living 2005

In order to overcome this he designed a photo frame holder into which pictures of the person whose number is required can be inserted.

The user simply has to tap the photo or the holder in order to dial the correct number.

He says it has the added advantage of working with an existing phone, avoiding the need to learn to use a new handset.

His central heating timer emerged after people told him that they relied on family members to adjust them, and sometimes never altered them at all.

His design uses LEDs (light emitting diodes) - which have better colour contrast - and shows the various on and off times on separate displays.

"The buttons that control a particular setting are located next to what they control so there's no need for mental translation between the two," he said.

In addition, Mr Goodland's timer gives audio feedback to confirm which operation has been selected.

The functions are sequenced clockwise around the face in what he hopes is a logical layout.

Having come up with idea and the drawings, Mr Goodland has to develop the electronics in order to build a prototype.

Bedroom access

A fellow student, Yasuhiro Inoue, has used his own experience as a wheelchair user to design drawer-type storage for the bedroom.

"I usually have a problem with storage," he told the BBC News website.

"I've found a lot of solutions in the kitchen but there isn't much available for bedrooms."

His design has the "drawers" or containers revolving on a chain mechanism.

The user rotates the drawers until the one containing the required items is at the most convenient height.

Unlike conventional chests of drawers, Mr Inoue's design can go from floor to ceiling because all of the contents can be made available at any height the user desires.

Photo of Clare Goodman in front of her design
Clare Goodman is looking for a company to manufacture her design

Another student, Clare Goodman, has developed postural seating for disabled children so that they can be supported after spinal or hip surgery.

"The hospitals that I worked with were dissatisfied with what was available," she said.

"The equipment was usually adult sized and there was no way of keeping a child safe, secure and comfortable."

Despite the encouragement of her employer, her tutors and hospitals, Ms Goodman worries that a much-needed product like hers may never be mass produced.

"I know there's a market for this, but there's still a gap between good ideas and what manufacturers are prepared to invest in," she said.

"I'm just not sure how we move this forward."

Life savers or leg breakers?
16 Aug 05 |  Magazine
Call for 'designer' hearing aids
25 Jul 05 |  Technology
Wheelchair bike is star of show
11 Jul 05 |  Technology


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