Design concepts to help people with disabilities, developed by apprentices at engineering training centre Oxfordshire Advanced Skills, have been revealed at the final of the Emma Wiggs Challenge.
Double paralympic champion Emma Wiggs MBE, who launched the competition earlier this year, was one of the judges who assessed the entries, which aimed to show how design engineering can be used to improve life for people with disabilities.
Since a mystery virus impaired mobility in her legs at age 18, Wiggs has dedicated herself to sport. She’s now a trailblazer for paracanoeing in the UK, a ten-time world champion paracanoeist and double paralympic champion, winning gold medals at the Rio and Tokyo Paralympics.
Having previously tasked OAS’s training provider, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, to design a bespoke canoe paddle, which went on to help her achieve gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, Wiggs presented a fresh challenge, designed in partnership with OAS, to the apprentices, who were tasked with finding design and manufacture solutions around everyday tasks that someone with a disability might find more challenging.
The apprentices worked on their design concepts individually or in small teams and were supported by virtual workshops with Wiggs, who was on hand to answer questions, enabling the apprentices to refine their design concepts.
The shortlisted concepts were presented to Wiggs and a panel of judges, who considered the research undertaken, the creativity of the concept, the clarity of the presentation and the concept’s feasibility in the real world.
The winning entry was the Low Level Pull Cord Assistance Device developed by Owen Mayers, which is designed to tackle the critical safety issue of unreliable and inaccessible emergency pull cords in disabled toilets. Mayers’ solution is a cost-effective device designed to be easily installed or retrofitted in most locations. It redirects and improves the placement of the typical existing emergency pull cords found in disabled toilets, ensuring that they are easily accessible, no matter where a user is located within a restroom.
The highly commended finalist was the Scooter Buddy, a cost-effective, portable product that can be stored in a chair bag or rucksack. Designed by the team of Ryan Budd, Matt Chambers and Ben Hibberd, the innovative device enables a wheelchair user to attach their active wheelchair to a common hire scooter available on the street quickly and securely without any help. A key feature of the design is the new footplate, which can be left attached to the active wheelchair and functions as a normal footplate at all other times, meaning it doesn’t intrude on space occupied by the user’s feet or legs in their normal comfortable position.
The finalists will spend a day with Wiggs at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham, where they will get a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility and try some water-based activities as part of their prize.
‘The results have been amazing,’ Wiggs said. ‘The aim of this challenge was to inspire the apprentices at OAS to create new design concepts to help people with disabilities in their everyday lives, and I have been blown away by their innovative solutions. It’s been wonderful to see the sensitivity with which they have approached the task, from the care taken to identify the challenges and then applying their engineering minds to come up with these fantastic, innovative and workable solutions.’
‘I’m so proud of our apprentices and how they have taken up this challenge,’ said Emma Johnstone, operations manager at OAS. ‘Producing their designs has required a lot of additional time and effort, beyond their regular busy training schedule. It’s been fantastic to have Emma Wiggs here to inspire them to see how their engineering skills can help to address some of the real challenges people with disabilities face in their daily lives. The quality of the design ideas that our learners have come up with is impressive for first-year Level 3 apprentices and is yet another great example of the value of apprenticeships.’