Assistive Technology Changed My Life

Motivation, David Constantine
Oct. 18, 2019

In his book Do/Design, Alan Moore says, “The act of creating something of beauty is a way of bringing good into the world. Infused with optimism, it says simply: life is worthwhile.”

For Motivation, this is about creating wheelchairs that consider the self-esteem and self-respect of the wheelchair user.

A better design, for a better life

Over nearly 30 years, we’ve put this at the heart of our vision. To provide the right wheelchair in the right way, so as many users as possible can access a well-designed product that suits their lifestyles and empowers them.

At times, achieving that has meant working beyond our own designs and programmes, taking a step back in order to work with, and for, the wider sector to achieve bigger and better results. We’ve learnt a lot about collaboration on design and global wheelchair provision along the way.

A lesson in collaboration

At last week’s International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) Congress, I had the honour of giving the Knud Jansen Lecture. I talked about how we learnt from the prosthetics and orthotics sector in the 1990s; we knew the wheelchair sector could learn from them on creating more cohesion and collaboration.

Based on that learning, Motivation approached the World Health Organization (WHO) to see what could be done in partnership. And through the vision of ISPO, WHO and USAID, the 2006 wheelchair consensus conference was held. It immediately created stronger communications between organisations throughout the wheelchair sector. It was a watershed moment.

Two years later, the WHO published one of the most important documents in our sector: Guidelines on the provision of manual wheelchairs in less resourced settings. Motivation staff and other experts worked together on these, and the series of training packages that followed, to help create, improve and train wheelchair services.

We built connections and collaborations, even when this meant working with organisations we didn’t necessarily agree with, in the hope of helping them work towards a better outcome for their beneficiaries and the sector.

The wheelchair sector has learnt and benefitted from the prosthetics and orthotics sector. We are more connected and collaborative. What does this mean for the future of assistive technology?

Connecting to build better assistive technology (AT)

Right now there are 1 billion people worldwide who require some form of AT. By 2050 this figure is set to double. It’s a wake-up call for us all – as we age, we inevitably will require more assistive devices to maintain our quality-of-life.

Today we see growing collaborations to increase access to these sorts of devices around the world through the ATscale and AT2030 partnerships.

The only way we can meet the need is by connecting our expertise with each other and communicating with governments, so we see investment for scale.

We all need to collaborate in all sectors of AT to create the greater we and move governments to start creating equitable systems, that can still be profit-making, and will provide much-needed AT.

The partnership behind Motivation InnovATe

Our own contribution to the AT2030 and ATscale partnership is Motivation InnovATe: a new way of locally producing bespoke, 3D printed wheelchairs, using clinical and design-led thinking.

Over the summer we trialled our system with a local project partner in Kenya: we trained their technicians to use a new assessment simulator, generative design software and 3D printing to create made-to-measure wheelchairs for local users.

We’re using technology to rethink the basics of local production so we can plan for a better future for people with disabilities in low income countries. Right now, we’re testing the project with wheelchair users and learning from their experience to refine the system and design.

A call for connection, communication and collaboration

I used my ISPO keynote speech to tell my own story of AT. I have learnt so much throughout my 37-year journey since my own injury: about the world; inclusion; appropriate design; seating; and the assistive devices I use to enable me to do what I do.

Through my work with Motivation I have come to understand a great deal about my own disability and ability; about how lucky I am to have been born, live and been rehabilitated in a society that embraces me and my needs. To participate in a community that gives me the opportunity to fulfil my life, take part and be included.

I now know that there are millions of others who don't have that opportunity. And I know that we have to come together to support them, so they can access opportunities and live independently.

It is vital that the prosthetics and orthotics and wheelchair sectors join together in the bigger AT movement. We all need to work together on a bigger scale to improve the lives of beneficiaries – and all of us as we age.

At the Congress, I made a call for attendees to think about how to challenge and improve the products and services that we all here to provide; to go out there to connect, communicate and collaborate; to keep work real, practical and focused on beneficiaries.

David Constantine is Founder and Director of Motivation, a disability and international development charity and social enterprise. Motivation is a partner in the AT230 and ATScale programmes.