Our top 5 technology and innovation trends for 2015

New Year may now be a distant memory, but New Year’s resolutions are (just about) going strong and lots of us are still looking to try something new. As January is generally a bit depressing, we thought we’d share some of the exciting technologies and innovations happening in the disability field to give us all something to look forward to for 2015!

We’ve put together a list of five top trends and technologies that are set to gain momentum over the coming year, and which we hope will have a real impact on the lives of disabled people.

  1. 3D Printing

Although these nifty machines have been around for a while now, it’s taken a long time for them to start printing anything of any real use (who needs another 3D printed moustache anyway?). In November we met Mick Ebeling of ‘Not Impossible labs’, who founded ‘Project Daniel’ in 2013, a 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility for amputees in war-torn Sudan. Since then 3D printed orthotics are being developed everywhere from prosthetic limbs, to exoskeletons and wheelchair seats, and can reduce the wait for custom made equipment from 28 weeks to just 48 hours and for a fraction of the price. Project Daniel is just one of many inspiring examples of how 3D prosthetics are changing lives for disabled people on a global scale. With 3D printing set to grow 98% in 2015, and with 3D printers now available on the high-street, we hope 2015 will be the year when 3D printed orthotics become more affordable, accessible and widespread than ever.

  1. Wearable Technology

Wearables seem to be everywhere now from the Apple Watch and Google glass to health technologies like Kiqplan and Fitbit. With this newfound focus on health and wellbeing in mainstream wearable technology there is huge potential for wearables to be adapted to support disabled people with living more healthily and independently, such as SmartGlasses which help visually impaired people to see.

Another such technology that is still in development stage, but we are equally excited for is the VEST which stands for Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer. This non-invasive, low-cost vibratory vest allows those with hearing impairments to use ‘sound-to-touch mapping’ to interpret auditory information through small vibrations on their torso. VEST is an idea developed by Dr. David Eagleman and works on ‘sensory substitution’, the idea that the brain can gather data using one sense, and then transfer it to another sense. With projects like this already up and running thanks to crowdfunding it seems the possibilities for Wearable technology are endless!

  1. Shared economy

Another trend that’s become almost impossible to ignore is the growing ‘shared economy’. This has seen everything from Crowdfunding and peer to peer lending, to services such as Task Rabbit, Casserole Club, Airbnb, and even BorrowMyDoggy.com (yes, it really is a thing). We think there is huge potential here for disabled people to get extra support and through the collaborative economy, as well as being able to get involved and share their skills.

Spice Time Credits, a social currency, is one way this is happening already. It works on the principle of individuals volunteering an hour of their time, and in exchange receiving one time credit worth an hour, which can be ‘spent’ on events, training and leisure services. It has already proved hugely successful across England and Wales from communities to Schools and social care settings and has seen a huge increase of customer participation and new models of co-production developed. What’s great about Time Credits is that everyone’s time is of equal value, regardless of knowledge, expertise or skills, and offers real life experience where people are rewarded for their contribution.

  1. Connected home

Although being able to control your heating from your smartphone may seem a tad unnecessary and somewhat self-indulgent (maybe that’s just us?!), it does show exciting development in the world of smart machines and the connected home. At Beaumont, Scope’s residential FE College, we’re already using environmental controls within some of our living areas, to allow students the independence to control things such as their curtains, lights and doors, from their smartphone or tablet.

Samsung has developed its SmartThings home control system, which can be used to monitor and control connected items in the home from locks to light switches and plug sockets. We’re really excited to see the demand for these technologies growing in the mainstream market and we hope that such technology will soon become both affordable and widely available, as it has huge potential to revolutionise the very meaning of independent living for disabled people!

  1. Hacks and ‘making’

The work we have been doing with IKEA has opened up a whole new world of ‘hacks’ and ‘making’ to us. Everyone seems to be having a go at making ‘handmade’ products, and ‘hacking’ mainstream products and furniture to meet the needs of disabled people. The Wheelchair Liberator, developed by Malcom Rhodes, is one such example and a far cry from the traditional homemade jam and knitted jumpers!

With coding now part of the national curriculum for all school children, apps are another thing that (almost) every man and his dog are having a go at making, and there really does seem to be an app for everything! The Apps for Good programme has seen a huge number of apps developed by young people aged 10-18 to address some of the biggest problems facing young people in our society. One such app is Supportive Schedule, an app designed to help people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions and their carers with daily routines. It provides pictorial guides to completing simple tasks such as making a cup of tea, to help aid their independence. It was developed by six young people at a school in Cumbria and won the Apps for Good award “Our World – encouraging sustainable and healthy lifestyles” in 2013.

From care sharing app Jointly, to diabetes management apps like Diabetes UK’s Tracker App, there are a wealth of apps out there designed to make life easier for disabled people.

We love this trend of people finding innovative solutions to their own problems. That’s why we’re working on creating a database of what we like to call ‘disability innovations’, to showcase the best technologies and creations out their making life easier for disabled people.

If you know of any such apps, technologies or innovations that are making a real difference to the lives of disabled people, then we’d love to hear from you!

We’d especially want to know if you have hacked or invented something yourself, so we can include them in our database and help you share them with others.

Get in touch with us at innovation@scope.org.uk or of course leave any comments below. 

Fluctuating and flexible support – why we need adjustment leave

Scope wants to close the disability employment gap. Disabled people can work and want to work – more than nine in 10 do work or have done in the past. However, only 45% of disabled people are currently in work.

In our  2014 report A Million Futures: halving the disability employment gap, Scope recommended the introduction of a new form of leave – “adjustment leave” as one way  to help disabled people stay in work. So we are delighted that The Work Foundation are now also asking for this in their new report Fluctuating Conditions, Fluctuating Support: Improving organisational resilience to fluctuating conditions in the workforce.

Adjustment leave reflects the fact that many people who are disabled or who have long-term health conditions experience changes in their impairment or condition over time.

It’s a new form of absence which would allow  the person to take part-time leave on a temporary basis at the same level of pay as would be accrued during pre-existing sick leave. Unlike sick leave, the individual is still working, but on a modified basis. Unlike part-time working, this change is intended to be temporary only – it is intended to help an individual “adjust” to a change in their condition.

Let’s take Mary. Mary has a condition which affects her joints and mobility and has recently become a wheelchair user. Everyday tasks – such as using public transport, or doing her shopping – are now taking Mary much longer than they used to. She is also experiencing much more pain and fatigue. Additionally, Mary wants to try a new therapy.  At the moment, she can’t manage work on a full-time basis, but she doesn’t want to lose her income or her independence. Her employers are keen to keep her skills, experience and expertise.

This is where adjustment leave would come in. Mary continues working, but she does shorter hours every day for a few months. This helps her to adjust faster to the changes in her life, and prevents her needing to take a full-time sickness absence. She is also continuing to be productive for her company at the same time. Once Mary has adjusted, she goes back to her old way of working.

Many employers are already doing this on an ad-hoc basis. Making this an official form of absence –  recognised by government, by HR professionals and most importantly, by employers –  would prevent unnecessary sickness absence and help disabled people stay in work.

Retaining disabled people’s talent makes good business sense. It’s time we step up to the plate.

If you have any thoughts on the report you’d like share, or a personal experience of adjustment leave, we’d love to hear from you.

Transforming perceptions of disabled people in the fitness industry

Guest post from Josh Goodfellow, a 21-year-old fitness professional and bodybuilder. Josh has cerebral palsy which affects his lower limbs. Through his work he aims to transform people’s perceptions of disabled people in the health and fitness industry.

Three men in the gym with JGFitness clothesHow did you get into bodybuilding?

As a former sprinter I was always heavily influenced in sport and the positive effects it had on me and my cerebral palsy growing up. After retiring from the track, I started working in a local gym as a Personal Trainer. I wanted to find something that would give me the same competitive “buzz” that athletics used to. I began casually weight-lifting and after six months of training I got the bug and began to explore bodybuilding.

In April 2014, I found out about a show called Hercules Olympia run by the legendary Scott Horton. The show took place in May 2014 and to my knowledge it was the first show to feature a disABILITY Class among a mainstream showcard in the UK.

Hercules Olympia opened the door for disABILITY bodybuilding.  It’s success allowed disABILITY bodybuilding to develop and people began to understand why it deserved a place in the industry.

What are the benefits of bodybuilding?

When people think of bodybuilding they may think of negative stereotypes such as performance enhancing drugs and aggression. When I think of bodybuilding I see it as something that gives you the opportunity to change your life.

Bodybuilding changed my life and allowed me to take control of my cerebral palsy. I no longer let it dictate my life. Through adaptive training methods it allowed me to physically develop to what I am today. Granted, I still trip over fresh air from time to time, but that’s all fun and games!

Bodybuilding has also been a fantastic social outlet. The people I meet and converse with on a daily basis are fantastic. I have met some of my best friends through the industry.

What’s the reaction been like at the bodybuilding shows?

So far it’s been a HUGE success. The reactions we’ve got from the crowds, competitors and social media have told me everything I needed to know.

We’ve had such a great reaction that it has allowed the sport to grow and develop.  So much so that in November 2014 a federation called Pure Elite committed to hosting a disABILITY Class too. It’s given the athletes personal exposure and it’s given the sport the exposure and awareness it needs.

How can someone get involved?

First of all – you don’t have to decide to become a bodybuilder to get involved with the growing number of people with disabilities heading to the gym.

Getting active is crucial. You don’t have to lift heavy weights and count every calorie to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Get to grips with your condition, establish your boundaries and then work towards developing those boundaries as you become fitter and stronger.

If you want to get involved with bodybuilding start by researching training procedures that will allow you to train safely. Look for a coach or experienced professional that can work with you towards your goals. Finding someone that can support you is crucial. Without my coach, Steve Winter, I’d have found it incredibly difficult to get into the shape required to contest a bodybuilding show. A coach is also there to keep you mentally on track when things get difficult, and trust me… they will!

What are your hopes for the future?

2015 promises to be the best year yet with nine disABILITY bodybuilding categories already confirmed for 2015. I’d love to see disABILITY bodybuilding continue to grow – more competitions, competitors, and opportunities.

It’s fantastic to be part of this flourishing movement. I and my business JGFitness will ALWAYS be there representing and fighting the corner for disABILITY bodybuilding.

For details on the 2015 calender, advice, and competitive opportunities like JGFitness on Facebook.

We currently have a health and fitness Q&A with a disabled sports specialist happening on our community, so please do get involved!