At Work for Good, we’re huge fans of the #techforgood movement. Rather than using technology solely for profit, or chasing tech progress for progress’ sake, the tech industry is increasingly investing in innovations that make a real positive difference to society.
So we were pretty excited to interview Fiona from Designability, a groundbreaking charity who are paving the way in problem-solving tech by developing assistive technologies for people living with a disability or a long-term health condition.
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What’s your charity all about? Tell us your story.
Designability is a UK charity that designs and develops assistive technology and products for people living with a disability or long-term health condition.
The charity was established in 1968 by a famous inventor and engineer, Bevan Horstmann, and a local consultant surgeon, Kenneth Lloyd-Williams, who became aware that there was a severe lack of suitable medical products for people with a disability, and that many surgeons were having to design and engineer their own equipment from scratch.
The pair embarked on a mission to create a platform for engineers and clinicians to design and develop medical equipment. They aimed to draw on the expertise and resources of as many individuals as possible to ensure their products really worked. Designability engineers created the world’s first spring assisted armchair, and led the development of callipers for children with polio whose legs needed strengthening due to the condition.
Now over 50 years later, we’re a team of engineers and designers, who carry out original research and create products that help people who are facing challenges every day.
We want better technology to be more accessible to everyone. Our team follow the principles of human-centred design which means that everything we develop is done in response to what people tell us they need.
Our aim is for people to achieve greater independence and happiness in their lives — goals that benefit all of society.
We work with the people who use our products, the end-users, carers and health professionals. By working with them, we can better understand the problem, find a solution and test it in real life situations.
What are some successes you’ve had recently, either personally or as an organisation?
Our biggest charitable service at the moment is the Wizzybug Loan Scheme which provides fun, powered wheelchairs called Wizzybugs free of charge to children under 5 across the UK.
We have now helped over 700 children since we first started to loan out Wizzybugs in 2011. This is a huge achievement for a small team who still build every single wheelchair in a small workshop in Bath.
As of today, the products we have designed and developed have helped over 300,000 people across the world.
What motivates you personally about working for your charity?
Designability is a fantastic place to work because it’s all about people coming together to develop new ideas to support people living with a disability to have greater independence and choice in their day to day lives. There are so many barriers to what makes a particular action or task accessible, achievable and easy to perform. I’m part of a team that is working to overcome the challenges people face and make life about providing ability through design.
What challenges do you face as a charity at the moment?
We face the challenges as most other charities, really: the ongoing need to come up with new and innovative ways to generate income to enable our work to continue. There are so many good causes out there that we have to constantly strive to try and set ourselves apart and champion our niche.
Do you ever work with small businesses?
Yes, being a small charity ourselves, we love to partner with small businesses to try and have greater reach and impact in society. We find that small businesses share a similar vision to tailor their services and provide a truly personable and approachable offering. We also find that they have a greater ability to have a close relationship with our work so that they can feel more in touch with the impact that their support can have.
What made you sign up for Work for Good?
Ultimately, it was down to having very limited resource to emulate this kind of campaign on our own. We would never be able to achieve this kind of initiative on our own so we really appreciate Work for Good acting as that important stepping stone between us and those who may want to champion our cause.