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We Are Enabled By Design: Universal Design and Accessibility

Published: 2010-11-25 - Updated: 2013-06-14
Author: Duncan P Edwards

Synopsis: Equip-able Ltd sponsored and participated in the first event held by the founders of the website Enabledbydesign.

Main Digest

On 17 June 2010 Equip-able Ltd sponsored and participated in the first event held by the founders of the website Enabledbydesign.

In Other News:

With much excitement, my wife, Clare Edwards and I headed along the bustling riverside of the Thames with a suitcase full of trabasack lap tray travel bags to the imposing building of the London Design museum to hear world class speakers on the subject of Universal Design and Accessibility. The location of the event was well chosen with terrific views of Tower Bridge during the breaks and bracing fresh air, despite it being London! There were also two fascinating design exhibitions to visit after the very good buffet lunch. The event itself was, as might be expected, a model of considered accessibility with all the talks being signed and many friendly 'Helpers' on hand to assist anyone who needed it. Attendees were encouraged to 'tweet' during the event. That is, to update what was happening or report interesting quotes using the web service Twitter via their mobile phones. Throughout the event 'tweets' were broadcast to interested non attendees and afterward comments could be collected and displayed as a live event blog for everyone. There are also videos of some of the speakers available at enabledbydesign as well as other guest blogs giving viewpoints of people who attended.

Denise Stephens co founder of the community website enabledbydesign introduced the 120 attendees to the day.

Denise explained how after being diagnosed with MS she had become frustrated with the assistive equipment she needed to use. She had found that because of the medical look of many healthcare products her home was looking more and more like a hospital and this was making her feel more depressed about her illness. She had found that some products on the High St., for example, an IKEA stool, could be used instead of the perching stool suggested to her by an Occupational Therapist. The IKEA stool worked just as well but fitted in with the look of her home better than the clinical design of a perching stool. Denise Stephens was inspired to launch the Enabled by Design website to find like minded people who could share the products that they found worked for them. In doing so, she has created an online community of people who are passionate about the products that help them live an easier life. By sharing their loves, hates and ideas on the site the 'Enabled by Design-ers' are challenging the one-size-fits-all approach to assistive equipment, and championing clever modern designs. She also hoped to promote her passion for 'Design for All'. This is a design philosophy targeting the use of products, services and systems by as many people as possible without the need for adaptation. According to the European Commission, it "encourages manufacturers and service providers to produce new technologies for everyone: technologies that are suitable for the elderly and people with disabilities as much as the teenage techno wizard." Denise explained that rather than focus on impairments we should concentrate on people's abilities and the products and services that can help support them to live independently. Also by making mainstream products usable by as wide a range of people as possible, it helps to remove any stigma attached.

Wayne Hemmingway MBE

Despite Wayne having originally no formal qualifications in design or architecture he has built a career on his innate feelings for designs that work for people and society. Originally building up 'Red or Dead' from one stall on Camden Market to a multi-million pound company he now heads Hemingway Design and has been honoured with numerous professorships and doctorates. He discussed the KiosKiosk project. An idea that reflects his own commercial beginnings at an indoor market. The KiosKiosk is a low cost mobile shop unit that moves a few inches each day to avoid planning and other regulations. This moving shop space is rented to young and aspiring would-be retailers who would otherwise be unable to test their products and reach customers on the High street. There is currently a KiosKiosk slowly crawling around the streets of Nottingham and the idea has been embraced by Nottingham City council who want to encourage start up business back into the town center.

Similarly his 'Starter for ten' project in Gateshead is giving empty shop units as rent free work spaces to entrepreneurs. Wayne's agency and the City Council also offer them two years business support.

He is now keen to have an impact on architecture and believes we have been 'building the slums of the future' by filling our inner cities with 1 and 2 bed flats and rather than mixed dwellings that share social spaces where communities and social links can develop.

Julia Cassim

The presentation by Julia Cassim who is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art followed. Julia worked in Japan and was the designer and curator of award winning exhibitions for audiences with visual impairments and learning disabilities. On returning to the UK in 2000 she organized the DBA Inclusive Design Challenges. These challenges partnered disabled people with professional design teams in live design projects for the mainstream market. Julia discussed the demographic changes in society and the importance of inclusive design for companies. She stated that if you add the percentage of people with a disability to the percentage of older people in our population, you now have the majority. Older people are also becoming more technology and product literate. So called 'Yoyo's (older bodies, young minds), people like Stephen Fry and Madonna, are becoming powerful influencer's of what products are seen in the media. Manufacturers should ensure that their products are able to be enjoyed by everyone. Julia's design challenges have shown that redesign with disabled peoples input can lead to innovation. The DBA Design Challenges were inspired by examples from history, such as the typewriter, that was first created for someone who couldn't hold a pen. Mo cushion The Mo cushion was the winner of the DBA Design challenge in 2009.It was created by a mixed team of designers, carers and residents of Trowbridge Care Home and people who worked spent long periods working or traveling in a seated position. Mo replaces the traditional synthetic foam or gel cushion padding with a molded matrix product consisting of a polymer sandwiched between moldings of linked 'pixels'. Each pixel conforms to the user's weight, adapting to their movements and distributing their body mass more evenly on the seat. It also means that people can 'fidget' increasing the comfort for people seated for long periods in the same position and reduces the possibility of pressure sores for those unable to stand up. The Mo cushion's matrix is non-porous making it easy to rinse clean, soak or be disinfected in a care setting. And being lightweight it is portable and easy to take to places where there are often uncomfortable seats such as classrooms, sports arenas and open-air theaters. These design challenges have shown that by using input from people with disabilities, placing designers in unfamiliar situations and forcing them to understand that the extremities of ability you can create a powerful force for innovation.

Other highlights included Antonia Hyde, wed designer and consultant and Kath Moonan, accessibility consultant who discussed the importance of making websites easy to navigate and understand for people with different disabilities. She stressed the importance of deciding to make a website accessible early in its design rather than attempting to fix it later. The cost of improving it being far greater than getting it right initially. More information can be found at the website.

Kate Monaghan producer of 'Are you having a Laugh - Disability and Television' Kate's humorous talk showed clips from the recently screen BBC 2 program about how disability has been portrayed over the last 40 yrs and her experience as a wheelchair user. She said that the majority of television is still made by white middle-class non-disabled men and disability is under represented on screen. She made this point by estimating that Coronation St should have 5-6 disabled people featured. The 'moral universe' is a viewpoint perpetuated by television. That is the idea many people have that "I've been good, it will never happen to me". This is found throughout literature and frequently in Shakespeare. Bad characters always have a disability such as a hump or facial disfigurement. In James Bond, since 1962 with Dr No and his two false hands, the criminals have always had a disability. Alternatively disability is shown as a punishment for doing wrong, which is a popular theme in soap operas such as Eastenders. She said it was important to challenge these ideas with positive, representative programming.

Charles Leadbeater

Thought provoking and direct, Charles Leadbeater suggested that the way we provide services to people, needed to be 'with' them, and not 'for' them. Charles a former government adviser to Tony Blair and he argues that participation, rather than consumption or production, will be the key organizing idea of future society. He discussed the shift in society where things that were done 'by' or 'with' us and are now done 'for' and 'to' us and that when things were done 'for' and 'to' us they were often unpleasant and unwanted. He said that this shift was happening in justice, health, politics and education. We are schooled to believe that the 'end justifies the means' and that it is outcomes that matter and the way that outcome is arrived at is not important. Outcomes such as consumer satisfaction or shareholder value are all that is deemed to matter. However the 'means' are not just tools to reach the outcome. There is a choice on how the outcome is arrived at and that is by doing something 'for' people or 'with' them, and that the outcome arrived at is totally different in each case. He illustrated this with a story of an Aids clinic in Nairobi. At the clinic the women when the women were told that they were pregnant and HIV+ they were encouraged to safeguard their baby against developing the virus by using drugs. The researchers at the clinic could not understand why the women would very often not use the anti-viral drugs they were given. 90% of mothers would not use the drugs compared to similar women in the US where only 9% of babies went on to develop the disease. The solution was found by using other HIV+ mothers as mentors. By pairing up the women and creating links and networks of mothers a 'with' solution was found to work. That is older mothers would work 'with' younger mothers, instead of medics doing it 'for' them. Now the "Mothers to Mothers" scheme that helps 200,000 African women per month has a disease transmission rate of 20%. He summarized how much more successful the results are from of working with people, rather than doing things for them.


The 'We are enabled by design' event was the probably the most thought provoking and inspiring that we have been to. It was a very creatively and thoughtfully organized and this atmosphere brought out the best from the participants.

Some key lessons for manufacturers and retailers are:

Engage with customers for product development, people with disabilities are expert users and innovators

Produce something that is inclusive and it will be easier to use and more widely adopted in the mainstream

Products for general use will increasingly be made for everyone lessening the market for specialist products for particular impairments. This is something that we have tried very hard to do with our 'design for all' product Trabasack. Trabasack lap tray travel bag is a bag with a beanbag base to level it on your lap and a firm surface to work upon. It is a product used by people of all ages and abilities. That is, a product that is useful to people of all abilities and thereby reducing any feeling of "don't want this but I have to buy it because I am disabled" for people who buy it as a wheelchair or buggy tray

Website accessibility is extremely important in healthcare, and should be considered at the earliest opportunity

If you want to encourage participation in your projects and campaigns, there are now many new online social media tools to facilitate it.

Duncan Edwards Director 'Trabasack' Equip-able Ltd

Duncan is director of the company that created Trabasack, the award winning lap tray travel bag, useful for students, commuters, artists, writers and creative people everywhere.

Trabasack ( is a bag that is also a lap-desk, so that you can take your life on the move.

Reproduced from THIIS magazine - the trade magazine for the home-care industry.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Duncan P Edwards. Electronic Publication Date: 2010-11-25 - Revised: 2013-06-14. Title: We Are Enabled By Design: Universal Design and Accessibility, Source: <a href=>We Are Enabled By Design: Universal Design and Accessibility</a>. Retrieved 2021-08-04, from - Reference: DW#322-6288.