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The boffins who solve disability problems

From supportive body suits to a beeping football - what gadget do you need?

If you are disabled and believe that a product to solve your problem doesn’t exist yet, listen up. A network of volunteer engineers are on-hand to help.

When Sarah Stones realised leaning heavily on her left arm was taking its toll but couldn’t find a device to help, she reached out to Remap, a charity that makes bespoke solutions for disabled people. Engineer Akshaya Ahuja made her an armband with a pressure-sensitive alarm that would make her straighten up.

About to go to market is an accessible toy kitchen which is suitable both for kids who use wheelchairs, and those who stand. Designer Bex French works for Demand, a similar charity to Remap which creates cool stuff for disabled people.

We put Bex and Akshaya on the spot with challenges from listeners, the presenters, and blind geek extraordinaire Robin Christopherson. Will Kate get a new skin to stop her joints from moving out of place? Why was Simon admiring Sarah’s seat? And what’s all the hype about buckwheat pillows?

Presented by Kate Monaghan and Simon Minty. Produced by Emma Tracey.

Subscribe now to BBC Ouch in BBC Sounds or ask for us on your smart speaker by saying "play Ouch disability talk from the BBC"

Release date:

Available now

47 minutes

Ouch Podcast Transcript: 26-07-19

 

Ouch Podcast July 2019

bbc.co.uk/ouch/podcast

Presented by Simon Minty, Kate Monaghan

 

 

kate

Coming up on the podcast:

sarah

Just something simple. Just a beep to alert me to sit up straight.

robin

Over the next five minutes if you get an itch don’t scratch.

kate

I need a new skin.

sarah

I just got one.

kate

Have you?

 

[Music]

simon

And so my granddad made me this step stool that I could stand on so that I could reach to play the bar billiards game with my dad. Played that a lot.

kate

Hold on, I think the listeners have joined us. Let me interrupt you. This episode is all about hacks and fixes for some of those little disability difficulties, just like your bar billiards table with your grandpa, you ancient man. And we even have engineers on hand to help. So, I have got my wish list of things ready.

simon

Yeah, and my other fix is my – what do you call it? – script stand that you always put so I can rest my feet on.

kate

That’s right.

simon

Because you're a very nice presenter. That is Kate Monaghan my co-presenter. And this is the Ouch podcast. I’m Simon Minty. If we were to quickly sum up this show: it’s a disability thing.

kate

We’re on BBC Sounds, and to get this podcast on your smart speaker wake it up and say, play Ouch Disability Talk from the BBC. Let’s meet the guests. Robin Kristofferson is in Coventry. Hi, Robin.

robin

I am sent to Coventry.

kate

You have been once again sent off to Coventry.

simon

But you are speaking.

kate

Is it fair to say you’re a total geek?

robin

Yes.

kate

Or partial geek?

robin

No.

kate

What would you say, total?

robin

Definitely, yeah definitely from my head to my toes.

kate

You’re blind, Robin and head of inclusion at tech charity AbilityNet.

robin

That’s right.

kate

So, what’s your favourite piece of kit nowadays?

robin

Well, I think it’s going to have to be my Echo, or Echoes should I say.

kate

Your smart speaker?

robin

Yeah, iscattered around the house definitely.

kate

How many have you got?

robin

Five or six or seven.

kate

I’ve got two and all I use them for is the radio.

simon

Is it?

kate

Yeah.

simon

Robin does a podcast giving you a skill. Is it every day, Robin?

robin

Yeah, a skill or a built-in feature. They’re improving all the time. There are over 50,000 skills in the UK Skill Store at the moment so we will never catch up basically.

kate

Wow.

robin

But we pick the cream of the crop.

kate

So, what’s your favourite skill?

robin

I like immersive audio adventure games.

simon

Goodness.

robin

Yeah. The one I think we did 800 and something episodes ago, the Magic Door, is probably still my favourite one.

kate

I’ve not tried that.

simon

I’ve not tried that. My parents they had two, which I set up, and then suddenly another two popped up, one in my dad’s shed, which means my mum doesn’t have to shout along the garden.

robin

Yeah.

simon

She can just talk to him through the shed. Well, not through the…

kate

How do you do that?

simon

You just say, drop in on parent’s name, Echo.

kate

Wow.

robin

Or you can say, announce it’s dinnertime, and it will play a dinnertime bell and play your voice saying it’s dinnertime.

kate

Ooh, but can you say, listen in on…?

simon

Yeah.

robin

That’s drop in, yeah.

kate

…person. Right. But does that mean, can you tell that you’ve started listening in on them?

robin

Yeah. It plays a little sound.

kate

Oh. I thought that was cool.

robin

As long as it’s set up you can drop in unannounced anytime.

simon

Robin is an awesome geek. We will be hearing from you as we go along. We’re also going to be hearing from a group of fixers here in the UK who create bespoke solutions for disabled people like Sarah Stones who is with us. Hi there Sarah. 

sarah

Hi.

simon

We’re going to hear what they did for you in a second. But let’s get to know you a little bit first. You’re a motivational specialist.

sarah

I am.

simon

What is that?

sarah

So, very clearly I am not a motivational speaker.

simon

Okay.

sarah

Motivation comes from inside not outside. I naturally help people to understand the different intrinsic motivators that we’ve got that impact on what we do, how we do things.

simon

And you identify or get the person to find what’s in them to get them to do things?

sarah

I do. I use an amazingly accurate10-minute online questionnaire.

kate

Is it a bit like the random website ones that are like, which Friends’ character are you? Is it like that?

simon

A bit more.

sarah

It’s a bit more dynamic than that.

kate

Oh okay.

sarah

You’ve got to choose between two statements.

kate

Right okay.

sarah

And there are only 40 questions and it really accurately tells us not only which motivators are important but which ones are currently being met and which ones aren’t, which obviously there has a huge impact on our well-being if our motivation…

kate

So, what are your motivators?

simon

Yes, speak of yours.

sarah

My top ones are making a difference.

kate

Oh nice.

sarah

And being creative, coming up with solutions to problems. And actually security and stability which in that there’s a conflict there because I want to be doing lots of new things but I need to be safe and secure. So, I often procrastinate.

kate

Oh nice.

simon

I did a talk the other day, and they said what slot, you’ve got any slot to do, and I went for after lunch which is…

sarah

Ooh!

simon

No, but I did it because it motivated me to kind of get my game up a little bit.

sarah

Yeah.

kate

So, you’re a bit more of a challenge motivator?

simon

Yes, contained risk. But you need a little bit of excitement, you need a bit of oomph.

sarah

Did you keep everyone awake?

simon

Yeah, I did.

kate

No, I bet you didn’t.

simon

They dipped a bit but I had a secret little quiz, so I whizzed it out and they went, ooh hello. So, yeah, we had a lot of… Thanks Kate, thanks for your support.

kate

Was yours a which Friends’ character are you quiz?

simon

No, it wasn’t. Mine was about disability and mental health at work.

kate

Wow, sounds riveting!

simon

They loved it.

kate

I bet they did.

simon

As always they just questioned my questions, not giving me answers, but we’re digressing. As well as everything else, Sarah, you sit on review panels for PIP, which is the Personal Independence Payment.

kate

Boo.

simon

No, the review panel. Are you an angel or are you a demon?

sarah

The appeal panel.

simon

Yes, you’ve been bumped. We come and see Sarah and she says I think…what do you say?

sarah

I think that the DWP have got it all wrong.

simon

Ah, political. We haven’t got the DWP to say anything else.

kate

We’ve got it right.

simon

Yeah. How free are you to say, if you saw ten people, how many do you give it back?

sarah

We don’t have numbers.

simon

Okay right.

sarah

So, I sit with a judge and a GP and we all look at all the papers before we meet and then go through and ask questions and make a decision.

simon

I imagine you have some where you go, oh they’re a cheeky whatsit, and then there’s others that can be heart-breaking.

sarah

I sometimes sit there reading the papers getting extremely irate. And sometimes we don’t even have to see the person; if we’ve got a three o’clock appointment and it’s very clear from the papers that they’ve got it wrong we’ll make a decision.

simon

Glad you’re there.

kate

Yeah. We’ve got Akshaya in the studio.

akshaya

Hello.

kate

Can I say you don’t have a disability?

akshaya

I don’t, no.

kate

Okay, but you’re an engineer.

akshaya

I am indeed.

simon

As a disabled person I love engineers because you kind of solve our problems.

akshaya

Okay.

simon

So, thanks for coming.

akshaya

I’m glad to be here. Thank you.

kate

Sarah, your starting point was a very particular problem that you had with your disability. What made you approach Remap in the first instance? So, Remap are the company who…so who are Remap?

sarah

Remap are the charity.

kate

Okay, you tell me.

sarah

Remap are there to help people with disabilities overcome their problems and to build amazing gadgets, big or small depending on what someone’s problem is. And they do that by using volunteers like Akshaya all over the UK who give their time freely to build these amazing gadgets, whether it’s something really small like mine was, or one of the projects they did last year was enabling a wheelchair user to go up Mount Snowdon.

kate

Wow.

simon

There’s not really a market as it were but you have a specific need.

sarah

I like to come up with solutions. And I know that when I’m working I lean to the left and it’s putting a lot of pressure on my arm and my shoulder. And for years I’ve wanted something really simple, just a beep to alert me to sit up straight. Very simple but there’s nothing on the market. So, I contacted Remap and Akshaya made me a beeper for my arm.

simon

How did that work then? What did you do?

akshaya

I was studying mechanical engineering at Imperial College, just down the road from where we currently are.

kate

Fancy. Cool.

akshaya

I’m also in lectures and making all these things in coursework, so I just wanted a real-world application for what I was doing, as a means of practising my own skills but also just looking for something to get involved in. One of the requirements for volunteers, as well as free time, is access to workshop resources etc. to be able to actually build what’s required. Five years after graduating from university I managed to land a job in a consultancy developing products for commercial clients. But the brilliant added bonus is there are loads of workshops, loads of equipment which we’re allowed to use after hours to build whatever we want. I was aware of Remap so I got in touch and I was assigned my first case. So, it was only really when we started talking, when Sarah started describing what she had in her mind was when we could start brainstorming solutions.

kate

For the armrest beeper?

simon

Beeper.

akshaya

Yeah, so it’s exactly what she’s described. What she didn’t want was something that would force her into an upright position. What she wanted was something that would encourage her or annoy her enough that she would sit up herself and kind of assume an upright posture and not lean too much, something that senses or detects that she’s leaning too much and annoys her just the right amount.

kate

So, how hard was it to make?

akshaya

Really hard.

simon

Do you first go out and see if something like this exists?

akshaya

Yeah, yeah. This was a particularly interesting case, so just being in Sarah’s house. The first visit is usually at the client’s house, so I went along to Sarah’s house and she was just talking about all of the stuff that she had, random LED lights that she’d bought for a super cheap amount of money off the internet, so she was clearly very clued up, she’d clearly done a lot of research about whether something already existed, which made my job a little bit easier. I did a sanity check, is there anything out there.

kate

A sanity check, I like that.

simon

Not of you, Sarah.

kate

Yeah, just of you!

akshaya

Sorry. [Laughter] I did due diligence just to check if anything was out there. But to be honest I was kind of hoping there wasn’t anything out there so that I’d actually have something to build.

simon

Yeah, I imagine, you want the challenge.

akshaya

Yeah. When I first came round we had some ideas, really mechanical ideas, maybe something mounted to a desk. But it was only when I went away and started looking at different technologies, different ways of sensing pressure etc. that I started to formulate what the solution could look like. So, I think within a week I’d put together a circuit, a very basic prototype that was just functional. I think I sent a video to Sarah and said, this is the track that I’m going down, is this what you’re looking for.

simon

Great.

akshaya

And it was a positive response. So, that bit was the easy bit. Putting all of that technology into something small enough, light enough that she could wear without it being an annoyance took several iterations of taking that technology and putting it down.

kate

Was it because Sarah was like, oh no this is really annoying?

sarah

It needed to be something that I would wear.

simon

Thinking style, yeah.

sarah

And actually something that I could put on and forget about until it beeped.

kate

Have you brought it with you today?

sarah

I should have done, shouldn’t I? [Laughter]

kate

I’m going to blame my producer for that for not reminding you. Terrible producer.

simon

I’m thinking iPad running, that thing you have on your arm. But I’m also thinking spirit level; have you got a spirit level in there?

akshaya

No.

simon

How does it know?

sarah

That’s how I thought; that was my original idea before Akshaya came.

kate

It’s not about balance; it’s about pressure. Akshaya’s nodding at me, because I’m the clever one, because it’s not about balance; it’s about pressure. That’s right, isn’t it, Akshaya?

simon

So far he just set a simple circuit. We can all do that, can’t we?

kate

Oh, I’m forever building simple pressure circuits.

simon

Thrown out with a spirit level. That’s how we get there through geek chats.

akshaya

So, the spirit level is kind of interesting. In some levels the electronic version of a spirit level is the accelerometer…

simon

Exactly. [Laughter]

akshaya

…in some applications, so you can use that to see how upright a posture someone is assuming potentially. But as you said it was more specifically about can we tell if she’s applying too much load.

kate

As Kate says.

akshaya

As Kate says.

simon

What does it look like?

akshaya

What does it look like: okay, so I did end up using a running armband that you put an iPhone into because it was made to fit an electronic item and to fit on the arm. On the bottom is mounted a pressure pad technically. It’s a force sensitive resistor.

kate

I would have gone with a force sensitivity resistor actually.

akshaya

It’s a laminate of thin components. So, it’s a really thin less than a millimetre pad that, depending on the amount of pressure you apply on it, it changes its electrical properties. So, if you monitor those electrical properties you can tell how much someone is leaning on it.

kate

Okay, so it’s basically like a pressure pad, that’s what you're saying, sort of but a fancy one.

sarah

If you lean on it…

kate

So, what noise does it make?

sarah

Akshaya gave me a choice of noises and volumes, and if anybody wants to see what it looks like there’s a really good video of it on the Remap website.

simon

Robin, I imagine working for AbilityNet and the technology you know do people come to you for fixes like this? Do you know stuff like this that already exists?

robin

I think what Remap does is hugely important and I’ve got a Remap story as well that I could share.

kate

Go for it.

robin

Okay. But yeah, knowing about what is out there and particularly what is, as Akshaya was saying, doing due diligence, because there might be the perfect thing which at a commercial standard product level would be very, very affordable and has technical support and that sort of thing, there’s so much out there. So, basically AbilityNet’s central remit is knowing what’s out there and being able to apply it to people’s particular disabilities or impairments. And sometimes people have multiple and profound disabilities and they can be really complex.

 

My sister for example, all of our family our blind, and she also has MS, really advanced MS. So, the only thing she can move is her head. She can talk. She can’t see and she can’t feel anything in the rest of her body. A few years ago now she loved singing and she would get at the choir evenings them to record the different parts onto cassette – this is as I say going way back – and before long her fingers weren’t strong enough to press down the play, pause, fast forward, rewind on a standard cassette machine. So, Remap came and they created this amazing gadget, it was like flippers that she could rest her fingers on, and there were little dividing sections between so her fingers would not stray off these little paddles, so her fingers were separated by little walls. And she could just press these really lightly and they ran these little servo motors that had enough pressure to press down the thing and then raise themselves off again. So, that was incredibly useful and that meant that she could carry on singing and learning the different parts in this kind of harmony. That put another five or six years on her ability to be in a choir.

simon

And I love that. I love the fact that it’s also hi-tech and low-tech; it’s a real mixed bag in there. What about I hate to say health and safety? Sometimes you have to be really careful that you’re creating things that have risk.  

akshaya

For sure. A risk assessment is mandatory before you handover a final product or solution. And in that risk assessment you make clear any potential risks. So, for this particular one the risks were limited, but I did make it clear that there are some batteries in there, rechargeable batteries, so take the necessary precautions and make sure it doesn’t get stamped on.

simon

Before we bring in another guest let me remind you that you can get in touch with us via @bbcouch on Twitter, you can find us on Facebook and email us ouch@bbc.co.uk. Tell your friends.

kate

So, let’s say hello to Becks French from an organisation called Demand. Hello Becks?

becks

Hiya.

kate

Hi. So, what is Demand, what do you guys do?

becks

We’re a charity that design and make bespoke disabilities, much like Remap. But we’ve often found in the past that a lot of our products that we’ve made for our clients, other clients will come to us asking for the same thing; and then we’ve found it’s very difficult to re-manufacture because it was a one-off thing. So, now we try and design things as if we were going to make it again as if we think that there is a need.

simon

I can see that; in terms of a short person’s world once one of us finds a great fix we share it. So, do you actually commercially sell these?

becks

Yes. We’ve got quite a few products on the market at the moment and the money that we get from them we put back into the charity.

simon

Got you.

becks

So we can then refuel and redevelop our ideas into improving our products so they’re more usable for a wider audience.

kate

What kind of stuff have you gone through that process with that’s available now for other people?

becks

One of the first ones was an easel for a wheelchair user. We’re actually in the process of designing it so it’s motorised, the user can actually position the canvas to the exact position they need, rather than having a carer or assistant position their canvas for them over and over again.

kate

I feel like we should have some kind of fix-off between Akshaya and Becks here. What do you think? See who can come up with the best solution for something. We did actually put out on our social media channels, we asked listeners…

simon

Can I say, it’s still collaborative.

kate

Oh sorry, let’s have a collaborative approach between Akshaya and Becks. All right, fine, I like competition, whatever.

simon

You’ve got three seconds.

kate

Yeah. [Laughter] But we put out on our social channels what problems they’d like to have solved, so I’m just going to throw a couple at you guys and you can see whether you can come up with something straightaway. Now, Vicky got in touch and said she hates flashing lights, she said she wants glasses that filter light so she can only see pink and purple. She says, I live in the dark and the hardest thing about going out is dealing with the light. What do you think guys, some kind of filter for only pink and purple light?

simon

Who’s first?

kate

Akshaya.

akshaya

What really stood out to me about this is how pervasive this issue is to different circumstances. So, the kind of sensitivity to light and needing this filter was needed in the home environment with visitors, it was needed when watching TV, it’s needed when driving, it was needed when out and about. I think with something like that one approach would be to try and break down the problem into the different situations rather than trying to come up with a magic bullet that can fix every single situation. So, when you’re watching TV maybe you have a screen for the TV that makes the TV more suitable for watching.

kate

Nice.

simon

I also like your bit of it’s not something I’ve got to wear; it could be something on something else as well.

akshaya

That’s the thing: if you can break it down to different environments you can try and tailor those environments and change those environments to lessen the problem as much as possible, and then the really geeky technology side. I don’t know much about photosensitive materials that change etc. But one really interesting approach to this kind of solution would be rather than existing glasses that have a given filter or change slowly, passively to the light, I think there may be some products out there which are continuously monitoring what’s going on around you and changing electrically the kind of opacity of the lens, of the glass that you’re wearing.

kate

You’re sort of losing me a little bit there.

simon

I think we’re now also talking about lighting that could work with a smart speaker. But I’m absolutely with you Akshaya. Becks, we have someone else: Susan says, probably something that could keep my body in the right position – this sounds familiar, Sarah – especially when I’m sitting at the computer at work. So, have you done anything like this, Becks?

becks

No, but I was actually going to mention about the Remap sensor that Akshaya has actually done. I think that was a fantastic solution to that product.

kate

A fan.

becks

I’m not too great myself personally with electronics, but if I was to take a different approach to the project I would look into ways of supporting her physically with hip, back and knee and lateral wedges that she could use or supports that could attach to her chair in a nice way, that doesn’t look ugly. And you can also already buy specialist postural chairs that are already out there.

simon

Thank you, Becks. Sarah, you’re looking at me.

sarah

Yeah, I got through Access to Work actually a cushion that is full of beanbag beans. You can pull the air out and it shapes around you to hold you upright.

kate

That sounds fancy.

sarah

And I’ve got one of those in the car now.

simon

Access to Work help; but what sort of cost are we talking about here?

sarah

I think it was about £600, 650. 

simon

Oh okay. I remember when I was first driving a car and they said, if you’re a Formula One racer you sit in something and then it moulds to you, so that seat is exactly right for you. And that’s what they were going to plan to do. You’re nodding at me, Akshaya; have you seen this?

akshaya

Well, just everything about a Formula One car is adapted for that one person because it’s a one-off.

simon

Got you.

akshaya

Kind of like the Remap solutions.

simon

Yeah, like it.

kate

It’s crazy that you’re saying a beanbag costs 600 quid.

sarah

Yeah it is.

kate

It’s just the way with all this disability equipment: it’s so prohibitively expensive, that’s what I find.

sarah

Yeah. And that’s what’s really infuriating.

simon

Robin, I suspect you’ve got kind of whizz bang ideas that are coming to mind?

robin

Well, it’s funny you say that but it’s all the rage now to have these buckwheat hull filled pillows that mould to your…

kate

What?

robin

Yeah, buckwheat, the husks of, they’re called hulls. They’re about £30 or £40.

kate

That does not sound comfortable.

robin

They are super comfortable, and it’s really nice because you can actually sleep face down and breathe through all of these. It’s very airated but very, very solid.

kate

Oh, I’m not sure about this, no.

robin

They’re about £30 or £40. You can find them on the internet. You can take out as many of the hulls as you like. Get refills.

kate

What? No, this is weird! Stop saying the word hull.

robin

You can wash the pillowcase and they will literally mould to…say for example you wanted to listen to something by having an earphone in one ear…

simon

Yeah, I do that, audiobooks.

kate

I do too, yeah.

robin

Lying on your side, if you like to lie on your head on one side, press your thumb where you want the ear thing to go, lie down and it will stay in exactly that shape and it won’t press your ear.

kate

What does that…?

ROBIN

It’s absolutely brilliant.

simon

My current Bluetooth headphones are deliberately ones that are really flat and flush because of that exact issue.

robin

No, these are supposed to be really healthy, really good for you.

kate

Healthy?

robin

Yeah.

kate

Are we allowed to eat the husks as well while we’re sleeping?!

robin

There are no chemicals in the filling or anything. Just search for buckwheat pillow. And it’s not 600 quid. I’ve got a very big request from Remap/Demand, my sister again – I’m going to issue a challenge to you guys now over the next five minutes:

simon

Like it.

robin

If you get an itch don’t scratch and see how much it drives you up the wall. And this is what she has to deal with all the time. As soon as we mention itches you’ll actually get one now. Don’t scratch.

kate

Yeah, I don’t like that.

robin

Because she can’t move her arms at all she’s constantly having to ask people around her, if indeed there are, to scratch the side of my nose; can you scratch my forehead, oh yeah just there. So, I want something that can be an arm that can come around, she’s got a headrest on her wheelchair, that can come around and be stiff enough so that she can then rub her face against the point or the end bit of it. Going back to health and safety there are obviously issues here. Poke her eye out.

simon

Yeah and cleanliness.

kate

Becks, anything coming to mind for you here?

robin

It’ll have to have the ability to swing away because she can’t see so she doesn’t want to poke her eye out inadvertently if it’s there all the time. So, maybe even like voice activated or something to swing out of the way. But that would improve her quality of life immeasurably.

becks

That would be really cool.

simon

Sorry Becks, Akshaya’s eyebrows have been raised for about 45 seconds now. What are you thinking?

akshaya

I’m thinking that the solution has been described. I’m just trying to imagine what it would look like.

simon

How to make it.

akshaya

The other interesting thing we have at Remap is the challenges that people face they’ve been thinking about them for a long time, and so when we’re approached it’s not always with a problem statement, it’s usually with a solution. So, sometimes it’s useful to then try and go back to the problem statement and think, is there a different solution. But it sounds like Robin’s thought about that quite a lot and the solution seems to be potentially there; it’s just about implementing it. And everything that’s been discussed so far seems feasible.

simon

Presumably you listen to that solution because it could be, but you’re also saying let’s start again in case there’s something even better?

akshaya

Yeah, sure. But the solution tale could be the final answer but it’s also very revealing about what the actual underlying requirements are.

simon

I suppose it was a loaded question. When I buy cars I buy the car, then I go to the adaptation people and they say, if you’d come to us first we could have had a chat about the right car. And I go, that’s why I don’t come to you first, because you’ll impose your solutions; I want the car that I want and then I want you to solve it for me. You’re nodding, Sarah. Just agreeing?

sarah

Yeah, I am. Sorry.

simon

No, no, that’s fine and that’s my point. I know I might be a bit naïve but that’s the point, otherwise I’ll end up with the most basic car sometimes because that’s the easy solution.

kate

I know if I came to you for help I don’t want it to look medicalised, I don’t want it to look cheap.

sarah

Yeah.

kate

I want it to look stylish. Do you know what I mean?

sarah

Yeah.

AKSHAYA

That’s something that’s really hard to grasp as an engineer is functionality is not the only requirement. Just delivering functionality does not mean you’ve met the whole kind of specification of what someone’s looking for, because there might be something just as important as it functioning, which is kind of be discreet or look nice etc. And that’s why when you initially asked me how hard was it to make this contraption, it was really hard, and the really hard bit was trying to miniaturise it so it was actually somewhat pleasant to wear. I think with what I’ve got there’s still scope to go much further.

simon

Do you use the word contraption when you’re making these things or is that just a slip of the tongue?

akshaya

No. I think I should have read up.

simon

People call my scooter, oh that cart you’re in. I’m like it’s not a cart. Becks can we set you a little challenge, this has got a solution in it: Carol says, a wheelchair that doesn’t actually have castor wheels. She wants a one which had a ball wheel instead. She thinks this is quite a good idea. Have you ever…?

kate

The problem with castor wheels is that they lock, and I think we all find that wheels on wheelchairs that all of us use you get to a certain place and they don’t work. So, Becks, any solutions for wheels that work everywhere?

becks

The thing is it would have to be run on an axle, because obviously a ball rolling in every direction is going to be quite difficult, so it will have to run on an axle and then have a castor support. But you can get castors with in-built suspension. And you can also get a product called free wheel, it’s like an add-on which completely lifts your castors off the wheelchair for when you’re going out on uneven surfaces. I’d also maybe suggest pneumatic castors, although you do tend to go slow in a wheelchair. But I definitely think it’s an idea that we could test out and see if it is actually better than the castors that already exist on the market.

kate

Yeah, that would be cool. Just to describe, the castors that are at the moment on wheelchairs they’re just like a spinning wheel that will go in all different directions, but they get stuck.

simon

Yeah.

kate

Imagine like shopping trolley on a tiny level, but when the shopping trolley sticks it’s the most annoying thing in the world.

sarah

It is.

kate

That on a wheelchair is I think what we’re trying to avoid here.

simon

And when we’ve got tactile paving for blind people we go all over the shop.

kate

Exactly. Blind people needing their tactile pavement, yeah.

simon

Is this the small?

kate

Yeah, so the little ones at the front rather than the big ones at the back.

simon

It seems obvious why haven’t we got a little ball-bearing. Or what about those bouncy balls? That would be quite fun.

kate

Bouncy ones, yeah, so every time you go up in a wheelie and then come back down you bounce up a little bit further. Yeah, that’d be cool. Why not?

akshaya

If you just look at the prevalence of castor wheels they’re everywhere. And there’s usually a reason when something is so prevalent, it’s because it’s cheap.

simon

Right.

akshaya

And also the wheel is kind of serving two purposes: it’s allowing you to move, but it’s also supporting all of your load. And it’s able to do that because it has bearings built into it that allow it to rotate in a particular direction. If you have a ball, I can’t visualise how you allow it to support all of your load and roll at the same time. Unless you go for a complete different way of moving other than something that is rolling. Because the other interesting thing about wheels is when you look at a lot of engineering you see parallels with nature, so you see wings for instance, but with wheels you don’t really see it in nature. It’s not really an efficient way of moving. And there are probably biological reasons for that. But I guess one of the obvious reasons is wheels just aren’t good on anything that’s not flat and level.

kate

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase, another interesting thing about wheels is.

simon

Akshaya can I thank you, because when he did say that he rubbed his beard, and I like the way… When you become a more experienced engineer will your beard get bigger do you think?

akshaya

Of course.

simon

I love that. [Laughter] Sarah, you look like you wanted to say something.

sarah

I was just going to say, you two might know, but what occurs to me is actually we need people like us and Akshaya…

simon

Yeah.

kate

And Becks.

sarah

…actually working on the products that we buy. I’ve just bought a new mobility scooter and for some reason they’ve decided to make it narrower and longer. But the turning circle is absolutely atrocious.

kate

Yeah.

sarah

And it’s not as steady. I much prefer it to be back to my old one, but with the lightweight version. But who have they asked? Have they asked anybody whether we need it narrower? Akshaya also made me a new seat for my old mobility scooter, because it was a lightweight mobility scooter, but the seat weighed a tonne. So, when you’re taking it off every day it was really causing me problems. Why do we need heavy seats?

simon

I’ve been admiring your seat, and the seats I use on my mobility scooter my seat is 14 years old, and I’ve had it even re – what’s the word? – reupholstered once. And I found another one on eBay on the spares because it’s the only one I can lift off.

sarah

Yeah.

simon

Sorry, Kate.

kate

No, I’m just wondering, you’re admiring Sarah’s seat, have you ever admired my seat. Has that ever happened before?

simon

That’s back to you being quite flirty funny today, aren’t you? [Laughter] You’ve had these medical tests and you’ve been kind of twisting things I say. You have a lovely seat. You’re blushing now, aren’t you,

kate

I am, Simon.

simon

It’s rare that you blush.

kate

Do you come here often?

simon

Now you’re making me blush. I think you have a lovely seat too.

kate

Thank you very much. Becks, I’ve heard you’re working on some really interesting toys at the moment.

simon

Oh hello.

kate

What are you making?

becks

Yeah. So, I recently designed a toy accessible play kitchen for a boy who’s got cerebral palsy.

kate

Oh brilliant.

becks

He uses a wheelchair but he can also stand with aid. So, there wasn’t currently an accessible toy kitchen on the market that was suitable enough for him to use that was sturdy that could hold and support his weight. So, I worked with the mum and together we came up with a toy kitchen that he can use with a wheelchair, and it’s got in-built hand grips so he could use it as a physiotherapy tool as well.

kate

That’s so cool.

becks

And we’ve…

kate

I’ve got a friend who was looking for a playhouse for her son who’s a wheelchair user, and all the playhouse doors are tiny, as you can imagine.

becks

Yeah, yeah.

kate

So, he couldn’t get a new playhouse. And something like that could be great too.

becks

We were thinking that we could maybe make this, because we’ve got the base of this design of the table top, and we could put different ideas on top of that, so it could be a toy, a playhouse or a workshop bench. We’ve had quite a lot of interest for this kitchen so it’s in development at the moment so it could go in schools and be height adjustable to different children.

simon

I have a specific question for both of you, and you can answer it with one word, which is: if someone with a disability approached you and the problem they had related to having sex or relationships, would you help with that? Can you help with that?

becks

Absolutely yes. I think there is a product. We recently had an enquiry about a guy who wants to be able to smoke his cigarettes, and yes that’s not a thing to encourage, but just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to do what the hell you want to do.

simon

So, that’s for after sex they have the cigarette. [Laughter]

becks

I don’t think there is a product we would stop doing, even if it is, in air quotes, an embarrassing topic.

simon

So, your point is you’re not the moral arbiter. You’re shaking your head as well, Akshaya, in agreement.

akshaya

Yeah, completely agree.

kate

Nodding, not shaking.

simon

Well, it was a shake because it was a different question.

robin

I have a question for the guys. This is obviously changing the topic quite significantly. But my sister who can’t see wants to be able to play with her little boy with simple things like throwing a Frisbee and kicking a ball. Now, we can get balls with lead shot in which is great when they’re moving, but as soon as they’ve stopped where’s that ball.

kate

With what shot in, sorry?

simon

For noises.

robin

Lead shot.

kate

Oh, lead shot, okay.

robin

They have to be small enough to be pushed through the valve in the ball, if you see what I mean, so they roll around inside.

kate

So, you can hear it?

robin

Yes.

kate

Right.

robin

When you’re kicking the ball, but as soon as it’s stopped you don’t know where the ball is. So, a beeping ball would be really good. She also ordered, the only place she could find it was from America, a beeping Frisbee. And when it came it was just a slab of foam with a beeper in it, but it doesn’t fly and that’s a pretty fundamental thing for a Frisbee.

kate

Robin, is this for your sister in a wheelchair or a different sister?

robin

No, a different sister who also can’t see. So, yeah she wants to just be able to play with him in the garden with some more active toys. Because when you’re blind lots of things you do are quite sedentary. You want to be able to be just a bit more active and fun in the garden with him.

kate

Becks, what do you think?

becks

Adapt it so it could actually move, because it’s already got the beeping stuff involved inside it, rather than starting from complete scratch.

kate

Akshaya what about you?

akshaya

A beeping ball that would tell you where it is?

kate

Yeah.

akshaya

You can get really, really small speakers that you can programme pretty easily. Obviously the main things would be protecting the electronics, but I think it would be pretty simple or a feasible thing to do. I’m surprised it’s not already been done if it hasn’t already been done.

simon

Yeah.

robin

Two very marketable products there, guys.

simon

Robin, you alluded to something; so when I do go to the States in some of the bigger pharmacies or general stores they have aisles – they don’t call them this but I call them the disability aisle – and we would go down it, I used to go with Liz Carr who used to do this show, and we’d get so excited. There was stuff that I didn’t even think I needed but they have a market there.  There are 350 million people, more disabled people; I suppose is it the problem in the UK that there are just not as many of us, you can’t market these things?

ROBIN

Yeah, and increasingly we’re seeing the closure of local centres, like a visually impaired, your local association for the blind might have had some gadgets on show, and they are rarer and rarer these days. I think something like Amazon where it’s very easy to have a go and send it back, no questions asked, I think is a really good thing. But when it comes all the way from the States then obviously that’s a little more problematic.

simon

Right.

kate

Yeah, you can get loads of disability stuff on Amazon now.

simon

Can you?

kate

Yeah.

simon

What have you been buying?

kate

Oh, all kinds of things, Simon.

simon

For your seat.

kate

For my seat that you are going to admire.

simon

You’re doing your yoga movements as we go.

kate

Yeah.

simon

Listener, every now and again Kate stands up and wiggles her seat and moves about to keep yourself supple – is that what’s going on?

kate

Yeah, just to keep the pain at bay. That’s all it is.

simon

Akshaya, is there anything we can do for Kate on this?

kate

Yeah, Akshaya what do you think?

akshaya

On what specifically?

kate

Well, I don’t know.

simon

Quite awkward.

kate

My thing is my joints they’re not in position properly. I don’t know if there’s some kind of way of like…

simon

Wiggling you.

kate

…keeping all the joints in the right place so they don’t sort of slip out a little bit?

akshaya

I assume you’ve tried standard braces?

kate

Yeah, but braces are uncomfortable and heavy and no good. I need like a new skin.

robin

Support stocking.

kate

Yeah, support stocking. Thanks for that Robin.

robin

That’s all right. Sparkly one.

kate

But not like granny one thanks.

sarah

I’ve just got one.

kate

Have you?

sarah

Yes.

kate

What is it?

sarah

It’s a Lycra bodysuit like a short-sleeved wetsuit, short legs. And it was made specifically for me. It’s like an external layer of muscle.

kate

Wow, okay.

sarah

Jobskin is the name of the company; and it was through my physiotherapist at the hospital.

kate

Ooh hello.

robin

How do you go to the loo?

kate

Yeah!

sarah

Good question. It does not look sexy.

robin

It’s a wetsuit so it will keep it all in.

sarah

But you actually wear your pants on the outside because it’s all cut out round the nether regions.

simon

Really?

sarah

Yeah.

simon

And there are male and female suits?

sarah

Well, presumably it’s cut out in the same places.

simon

This has taken a turn hasn’t it everybody?

Robin

I’m so sorry I asked.

simon

Are you going to get a Jobskin, Kate?

kate

I think I might. If you’re listening, guys, get in touch.

sarah

Honestly, it’s amazing.

kate

Are there other skins available or is that the only one?

sarah

I’ve only had it a week and it’s making such a difference.

simon

And presumably if you had more than one you could have one, two, three or more skins?

sarah

Presumably.

simon

Yeah, see what I did there, everybody?

kate

I can’t… [Hysterically laughing]

simon

Kate’s gone. Do you need to go to the loo, Kate?

kate

I can’t cope, I just can’t cope. It’s Friday afternoon I think. We’re recording this on a Friday afternoon; maybe we shouldn’t record.

simon

It’s hot outside.

kate

It’s hot outside. Oh dear.

simon

And you’re still wriggling.

kate

I can’t…I’m really uncomfortable today.

simon

Where’s the script? Save ourselves.

kate

I’m really uncomfortable so I’m trying to… Anyway.

simon

You need some buckwheat.

kate

I do, I need a buckwheat seat. Okay everyone. Becks, I apologise for the craziness but thank you so much. Now, if any of our disabled listeners do have problems that need solving how they can get in touch with you at Demand, Becks?

becks

You can email us at info@demand.org.uk.

kate

Akshaya, if somebody wants to get in touch with Remap how do they do it?

akshaya

The best way to get is to find your local panel on the Remap website to just make contact and get the ball rolling.

kate

Okay.

simon

We can put this in the show notes.

kate

Yeah.

simon

Sarah, how does someone get in contact with you for their PIP appeal? Oh sorry, we can’t do that, can we?

sarah

No, we can’t do that.

simon

Oh!

sarah

But I can talk to them about motivation.

simon

Of course you could.

sarah

I do workshops.

kate

Now, Robin we wanted to talk to you about loads of other stuff, so we’re just going to have to get you on another month, I’m afraid. But while you’re here why don’t you plug your daily podcast?

robin

I do the Dot To Dot, that’s three words, podcast every single day, if you look for that. I’m also weekly on the RNIB tech talk podcast, all about tech and vision impairment.

simon

Push AbilityNet because you’re still awesome. In a nutshell what do AbilityNet do?

ROBIN

Yeah, so anything to do with disability and tech, and that’s hi-tech, low-tech and any kind of disability including dyslexia, whatever it might be, how technology can be adapted to help you perform at your best. And that’s abilitynet.org.uk.

kate

Amazing.

simon

That’s it from Kate and I this month. Thanks to our guests Sarah Stones, Akshaya – Ahuja?

akshaya

Ahuja.

simon

Robin Kristofferson and Becks French. The producer was Emma Tracey, the studio manager was Nasar Perves.

kate

The music this month is by singer/songwriter Hannah Scott. Hannah has arthritis herself but says this track is, inspired by a friend of mine who has a disability and who closed herself away for fear of rejection. I think we could all probably agree with that. Hannah has various gigs lined up throughout summer. We’ll put links to her info in the show notes, but for now here’s Walk a Wire. Goodbye.

 

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