Tag Archives: living independently in the community

Disability Innovations: Smart technology pioneering independent living

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What’s the big idea?

Alcove is an all-in-one technology service to help elderly and disabled people to live independently in their own homes. It harnesses the wealth of technology already out there, from smart home sensors to wearable technologies, and combines them in one easy to use, comprehensive system. It is designed to enhance and improve delivery of existing care systems by helping all parties involved in care to be more connected and to use technology to enable independent living.

Alcove was created to address the major problems facing the adult care system in the UK. Existing solutions for the provision of care are not enough to respond to the growing problem in the supply of care. This, combined with increasing demand, shrinking budgets and changing legislation means that as it stands, today’s system is unable to deliver the type and standard of care we need and expect, now and in the future. Alcove’s approach is threefold: improve the system, reduce the costs, and promote increased independence, choice and control for their customers.

How does it work?

There are four parts to Alcove each with a range of functions which complement one another. They are: the Alcove Base Package, Alcove Wearable, Alcove Connection, and Alcove Carer Monitoring.

The Base Package part is the ‘smart home’ part of the pack. It is made up of a smart controller and a set of wireless sensors. These sensors detect motion, heat and light and can be used around the home, in rooms, on doors, on the fridge or the medicine cabinet. The technology in these sensors does not require any form of action or behaviour change by the user – they simply collect data on users’ key daily movements which they then report back to care workers or family members via a web-based app.

Mobile phone will alcove app on the screen

The app creates a ‘dashboard’ for each individual for use by family and professionals, which flags alerts and emergencies as well as listing alert history, behaviour summaries, and reminders. This can be used to detect and monitor and behavioural changes such as an increasing number of restless nights and can track if this is related to certain trigger events. It is also linked up to a care line monitoring centre for emergencies to enhance safeguarding and react to anything unusual or unexpected.

wireless box and keyfob, part of alcove wearableAlcove Wearable uses wearable technology in a watch to help the wearer remain connected to family and professionals. It’s a bit like a wearable mobile phone, but is designed to be as user-friendly and easy to use as possible. It can be used to make daily checks and give remote reminders, such as for appointments or medication, and can be used to make an emergency call or receive calls from approved numbers. The emergency alarm can be used 24/7 and connects the wearer with a monitoring centre.

Alcove Connection is a tablet which can be fixed in one place, and hooked up to a charger so that it is always on. It has a video and voice call functionality to help make communication with family and friends better and easier and reduce social isolation. Contacts can be personalised and important people or services, such as family members and support workers can be contacted at the touch of a button on screen. Like the watch, the tablet can be used to send reminders and for remote medication prompts, and can be used for visual checks via video link. It also can be used for telehealth remote consultations with care and healthcare professionals to help monitor long term conditions. It can also be used to monitor the quality of care, providers are delivering by gathering customer feedback on the care and treatment they receive from professionals during care visits and appointments. This can be particularly useful to monitor agency staff and flag any unsatisfactory performance against set objectives.

The final element is Alcove Carer monitoring, which is a wireless box designed for care workers and other professionals to ‘check in’ and ‘out’ during each care visit using a pass or key fob. This is designed to improve safeguarding and security, and ensure accountability, by recording who is where, when and for how long!

What makes Alcove different?

Alcove works to make life easier and improve outcomes for everyone involved in care, from individuals themselves, and their families, to care professionals and commissioners. It works to improve planning and efficiency around care and is driven by data. The data collected on behaviour and movement patterns allows staff to be more efficient and move from reactive to proactive interventions and smarter deployment of manpower.

Alcove also helps reduce demand on care workers by alerting informal carers first, alerting the care line monitoring and responder service only if informal carers do not respond or are unable to help. Increased efficiency and better organisation for staff ultimately means better outcomes for users, and their families. Better coordination of care and use of smart technology for medication and other reminders has reduced the workload of staff and frees up more face-to-face time, meaning they can direct more of their time to meaningful interventions. As well as this, with a comprehensive system of support in place, Alcove helps individuals to be more independent by giving them the confidence they need, knowing someone is always at the end of a phone (or watch) and less reliant on constant 1 to 1 supervision.

Aside from being a comprehensive system with tangible benefits for everyone, one of the best bits about Alcove is the price: it works out at £13, or less than the equivalent of one hour of home care a week. By doing things more efficiently and doing simple tasks remotely, it can generate significant savings for care and support providers.

What’s does the future hold for Alcove?

Alcove is still being worked on and developed and is currently being tested by individuals, organisations and care providers. The system has been tested in disability and elderly care services alike and has seen impressive outcomes. One residential centre for disabled adults is using Alcove to support sleep-in night workers, so they are only woken up if sensors detect a resident leaving their room or moving around. Night workers are now able to respond in around a minute, and it is predicted that using Alcove will result in a saving of around £30,000 a year for the care and support provider. Outcomes for care workers have proved equally positive, with the data collected by Alcove being used to adapt systems and improve efficiency. By checking in at care visits, professionals are able to demonstrate the average time a visit takes, and adjust timetables and scheduling accordingly if the standard 15 minute visit is not enough.

One year on since they were founded, Alcove have come a long way, and Alcove’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Hellen Bowey was recently named Public Sector Innovator of the Year, 2015, in the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) Enterprise awards. Alcove will launch and be made available on the open market by this summer and you can sign up on Alcove’s website to be the first to hear about it when it does, and find out more about how Alcove can help you.

What we like about it

Too often we come across innovations which are solely focused on money and reducing costs for commissioners. Important as this is, for the care sector in particular, ultimately it’s about people. What’s great about Alcove is that it is a cost cutting approach, but not at the expense of customers or quality. In fact it also helps to manage demand for staff and improve outcomes and care for individuals. By providing greater choice and focusing on aspirations as well as needs, Alcove is designed to help older and disabled adults to lead fulfilling lives in their own homes. Alcove is a win-win idea as it offers families peace of mind, and benefits professionals and commissioners at the same time, improving everyone’s quality of life!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: A global system of inclusive communication

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is BlueAssist?

BlueAssist is a free-to-use system of communication to help disabled people engage with their community. BlueAssist aims to help anyone for whom communication is hard, whatever the reason, to engage freely (and for free!) with those around them to communicate their needs and is a simple way for disabled people to ask for assistance when they are out and about. Write your questions on the BlueAssist Card or app, such as ‘Please can you tell me how to get to the station’ or ‘Please look at me when talking so I can lipread’. Present your card to a trained member of staff, or member of the public, to make your questions and requests known to them. They are then able to quickly and easily understand what is needed and know how best to support you.

What’s behind the idea?

When you’re out and about and you get lost, or encounter a problem you ask those around you for help. But if you have a difficulty communicating this may not be something you can easily do. People may not be able to understand what you’re asking for, or may even ignore you because they don’t know how to help. Research estimates that only 1% of those travelling by train who need assistance actually ask for it. The idea behind BlueAssist is to create a universally recognisable symbol, which disabled people can use to get help and support.

At present there is no comprehensive ‘Blue Badge’ equivalent for people with communication and learning difficulties. BlueAssist want to change this, so that every person who finds it hard to ask for things, or communicate when out and about can ask for help to be as independent as possible. The BlueAssist symbol is there to help the public understand that the person asking for help may not be able to communicate easily and to provide an effective and mutually beneficial system of communication.

The idea began in Belgium in 2000, where the original BlueAssist card was trialled with a group of people with learning disabilities to help them to travel independently and ask for help when needed. In 2013 the team from Belgium presented BlueAssist at the Autism Show in London, and Barbara Dewar, now Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BlueAssist UK Ltd was so impressed with the system that she bought it back to the UK and launched a charity in the same name. The BlueAssist movement has now spread worldwide to the USA, Holland and Germany.

How does it work?

What started life as a simple card has now developed into a family of different apps to make the system more practical and easier to use, although the original BlueAssist card is still going strong, and available to download online for free! The BlueAssist Light app is an smartphone version of the original card, and can be used to show messages on screen. With the BlueAssist Light version you get access to two messages, one a general request for help which you can connect to an emergency telephone number, the second a message you can edit change as often as you want.

phone using the BlueAssist app
Phone using BlueAssist app

An important part of the BlueAssist ethos is that the basic system is free to anyone who wants to use it, and as such the BlueAssist Light app is free to download from Google Play or the Apple Store. However, the creators of BlueAssist have also developed a subscription based version of the app, which offers additional functions, such as multiple pages, and a range of messages and images. In addition to the full version of the BlueAssist app , they have also developed 3 additional apps, which can be both used together or in isolation.

The first is a Calendar app which uses visual cues to create clear daily plans and outline different activities and when they are due to happen. The second is a Photo phone book, which is a pictorial phone book, to create an easy way to call contacts. Numbers can also be barred at particular times, for example when staff go off shift, to help the user know when it is the right time to call. Finally the Photo Gallery app helps users not only to share their experiences but also to help sequence tasks. They have even be used to create albums for pictorial shopping lists, or visual cues for what to pack from swimming, and which order to put clothes on when getting dressed. All 4 apps plus cloud storage are available for a small monthly fee of £10.92.

Who are they working with?

Since its UK launch BlueAssist has received widespread support from disability organisations such as Mencap, The National Autistic Society, and has even been trialled at Scope’s own Beaumont College. They are also working with 28 train operators across the UK to adopt BlueAssist, including the Department for Transport and First TransPennine Express, who have launched the system with BlueAssist cards available at all their stations. Aside from transport, BlueAssist are also working with museums. And even the Houses of Parliament, to aid assistance and create ‘do’s and don’ts’ guidance sheets for staff, to help assist someone who presents a BlueAssist card.

The big dream for BlueAssist is to become a globally recognised symbol for anyone needing assistance to be able to confidently ask anyone around them for help and get it. They want the system to be simple and easy for everyone to use, not just trained staff, but also members of the public more widely. If disabled people feel confident to ask for help, and the public feel confident to give it, then everyone’s a winner!

Why we love it!

The social model of disability is really important to Scope, and we love how BlueAssist is helping to remove barriers in society that restrict communication for disabled people. Everyone needs help at some point, whether it is finding the right bus station or asking for directions, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get! BlueAssist both facilitates and promotes independence for disabled people, by giving them a really simple tool to help them communicate. Plus it may even help prevent some of those ‘awkward moments’ we saw as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign along the way!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: Championing accessibility in online ticketing

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Una?

Una is a new primary ticketing service that hopes to address many of the major problems facing the UK ticketing industry, such as booking fees, counterfeiting, touting, site crashing and lost tickets. Una have developed a system using smart technology which will help to streamline ticketing, and deliver a transparent service which prides itself on customer service, and putting fans first. Sounds great. But what makes Una really stand out, is that aside from all this, they are also looking to develop the most accessible ticket system out there. Una’s approach is hoping to improve accessibility at all stages of the ticketing experience, from purchasing a ticket, to accessing the venue.


What’s behind the idea?

Behind Una is a group of avid gig-goers who want to create a ticketing system that is as easy and effortless for everyone as possible. This is music to the ears of disabled gig goers up and down the country! Currently getting your hands on an accessible ticket can be a lengthy process, involving buying a standard ticket and then trying to get it exchanged for an accessible ticket, which isn’t always guaranteed! Other obstacles include having to negotiate with venues for a free ticket for a helper, a limited number of accessible tickets being available, and having to provide proof of disability/eligibility with every purchase. Then there’s the problem of physical access once you eventually get there!

According to a survey in 2014 by the charity Attitude is Everything, 95% of disabled gig-goers have experienced disability related barriers when booking tickets, so much so that 83% were put off buying tickets at all. Attitude is Everything campaign for improved disabled access to live music and are working together with Una to improve reform the system and make it as accessible as possible.

How is Una improving accessibility?

Una recognises that accessibility for disabled fans is one of the biggest issues facing the ticketing industry and that’s why accessibility forms a key part of Una’s quest to streamline and improve the system.  The big idea behind it is the ‘Una Pass’. The Una Pass holds all the information from your online account and holds your tickets, meaning paper tickets are a thing of the past. The Una Pass also grants your entry into the venue, and stores information of any access requirements you may have, and it can be used for cashless payments at the event. You can also opt to age verify your Pass so you won’t need to show additional ID at events or when purchasing age-restricted goods.

They’ve taken a similar approach for verifying disability and access eligibility. Disabled people buying tickets through Una only have to provide proof of eligibility once. Customers can provide proof, in the form of benefits or PIP(Personal Independence Payment) registration, doctor’s notes, or using the Access Card. Once this has been approved and verified, the details are stored on your account, so when you log in to buy a ticket, you will automatically be offered the option of buying standard or accessible tickets for an event. They’re also working to ensure their website is fully accessible, and will also offer a ticket hotline for those who prefer to order over the phone.

What’s more, Una are working together with event venues themselves to get all the information about accessibility and disabled access, including viewing platforms etc. and put that into a user friendly platform. This cuts out the middle man and saves people having to negotiate directly with venues, and makes the process as simple and fair as possible. Through their work with Attitude is Everything, they are also campaigning to promote better access at gigs and venues for disabled fans.

Una also offers you the opportunity to transfer your tickets to friends and family at the click of a button if you are no longer able to attend an event. Or you can sell them up to the day before the event, for face-value or less on Una’s secure marketplace so you’re never out of pocket. If there is a reserve list for an event, and you can no longer attend, your ticket is then automatically matched directly to the person first on the waiting list. If that wasn’t good enough, they are also hoping to work with venues to ensure that all accessible tickets are fully refundable.

What’s next for Una?

It really does seem that Una have thought of everything, so it might not come as too much of a surprise that they have been shortlisted as one of 25 semi-finalists for Nesta’s Inclusive Technology Challenge Prize (check it out, there are some amazing ideas there!). The prize challenged anyone and everyone to submit their idea of an innovative product, venture or technology which aims to ensure disabled people and their friends and families have equal access to opportunities. Now they’ve been shortlisted, Una are in the process of developing detailed plans with Nesta to be in with a chance of winning the £50,000 prize contract. The winner will be decided by the judges in June of this year.

Una are currently in talks with festivals and event venues and are hoping that the service will launch later this year. But if you can’t wait that long, you can already get your hands on an Una Pass via the website. Una currently have 2000 Free Passes to give-away, so you can sign up for a free Pass and join the ticketing revolution before it even happens! Their ultimate goal is to be the leading agency provider offering theatre, sport, music, arts and conference tickets in the UK.

Why we love it!

What we think makes Una special, is that despite being a mainstream service, they have made improved accessibility part of their core business offer. They want to improve the ticket buying experience for everyone, by creating a hassle free system that puts fans first. That means disabled fans too! They’re looking to move the industry forward, and we feel Una really shares Scope’s vision of a country where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. And that’s really exciting. We think we’re going to see great things from Una, so watch this space!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations – iBeacons help blind people conquer the Tube

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is it?

We all love to talk about how stressful travel in London is – particularity on the underground. Our usual complaints (the sights, the smells, the tourists standing on the left) pale into insignificance when compared with the challenge of navigating the system with a visual impairment.

Wayfindr is an app that aims to help blind and visually impaired people to use the London Underground (LU) more easily and independently, by giving the user accurate audible directions as they make their way through the station. A trial has just been undertaken at Pimlico station, and the hope is that if successful it will be rolled out across the LU and other transport networks.

“When I tested the app at Pimlico last week for the first time it was awesome, it made me feel free.” Courtney, Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum member.

Who did it?

The project was born out of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) Youth Forum, which in March 2014 highlighted travel as a key issue. They collaborated with ustwo (a studio which builds digital products and services) to develop the Wayfindr app. After an initial trial RLSB and ustwo approached LU to see how they could use this technology.

How does it work?

Bluetooth ‘iBeacons’ transmit signals that are picked up by the Wayfindr app, which uses them combined with ustwo’s positioning technology to work out where the user is. From this information the user is given audible directions which guide them around the ticket hall, down stairs and escalators, and onto the platform.  Directions are received though bone-conduction headphones, which are unique as they allow users to continue to hear what’s going on around them.

Young visually impaired Londoners involved with the charity were involved in testing the Wayfindr app. Feedback was positive, with those who were initially insecure reporting feeling more confident at the end of the trial sessions. There were some constructive points that will be addressed in future trials, and more iBeacons would need to be put in place before it can be used more widely.

Check out RSLBs Wayfindr page and video for more information about the trial and how the technology works.

What’s the dream?

The results of the trial will inform how this technology could work on the underground, to help fulfil the ambition of standardising all this technology and make it seamless across the transport network. Ustwo are also aiming to try out Wayfindr with multiple modes of transport, using various technologies to complement beacons for more accurate navigation.

If it is rolled out, it would offer a simple way for thousands of people to navigate public transport, making a dramatic difference to visually impaired people’s lives.

Why we like it

This ground breaking trial has been driven directly by a group of young people and the real issues they face, and has been achieved through close collaboration between charity and private company. We love how this technology is being developed on an open basis, to allow other developers to take the technology forward and build apps that work with the beacons. We hope the results of the trial mean that this is adopted across the London Underground and that other transport providers are encouraged to invest in this area.

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: App lets volunteers lend their eyes to assist visually impaired people

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Be My Eyes?

Be My Eyes is an iPhone app that connects visually impaired people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat. The app allows sighted volunteers to ‘lend’ their eyes to a visually impaired person to assist them with tasks such as navigating their surroundings and identifying food labels. Hans Jørgen Wiberg, the app’s inventor says that “being visually impaired myself I know the challenges blind people face. It’s my hope that by helping each other as an online community, Be My Eyes will make a big difference in the everyday lives of blind people all over the world.”

What’s the idea?

From his personal experience, and his work for the Danish Blind Society, Hans Jørgen learned first hand that as resourceful and independent as people with visual impairments are, everyone needs help once in a while! As a non-profit app, Be My Eyes hopes to provide that help by creating a community all about contributing to and benefiting from small acts of kindness.

The idea behind the app is simple. To ‘ask for help’ a visually impaired user touches a button to request the assistance of a volunteer (the app itself is designed around users using iPhone VoiceOver technology).  The sighted volunteer then receives a notification for help which they can either ignore or accept. If they accept, the app uses live video technology to enable the visually impaired user to direct the camera on their smart phone to stream an image of the object they need to see to the sighted volunteer’s phone. The volunteer can then describe the objects or surroundings, and answer questions such as ‘when is the use by date on this carton of milk?’ Requests for help can currently only be made between 7am and 10pm and sighted volunteers can earn points and promotions to new levels of experience, the more people they help.

The power of the crowd

Not only does the app itself make the most of ‘the power of the crowd’ to help its visually impaired users, but it is also uses a network of volunteers to contribute to the technical side of things! To date, the app has already been ‘crowd translated’ into over 34 languages, (a Crowd sourcing platform which allows volunteers to contribute and approve translations online). The app itself is also ‘open source’, which means that the source code or how the app is built in coding is freely available online, for anyone to access, use, change or distribute. Be My Eyes hope that in doing so, more talented people will have the chance to improve the apps software and to continue to develop it by contributing with new features or fixing bugs.

The app is free to download on iOS and an android version is in development.  Be My Eyes has gathered over 160,000 sighted volunteers and 16,000 visually impaired users to date (that’s 10 volunteers to every user) and has made over 56,000 ‘helping connections’ in more than 80 languages.

Why we like it

We think that Hans Jørgen’s idea of a network of ‘good Samaritans’ to help others is a really interesting take on the idea of the ‘shared economy’. Be My Eyes has the potential to make a real difference in helping disabled people to live more independently by offering a new type of flexible support on hand, as and when required. We also love how it uses technology to create micro volunteering opportunities in such an easy, and informal way- you could even be ‘volunteering’ during your commute!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: Simple solutions for unsteady hands

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.


HandSteady is a cup designed especially for people with arthritis, tremors, muscle weakness or limited dexterity, to help reduce spills when drinking and increase independence.

The magic behind it is almost too simple… the HandSteady cup has a rotatable handle. The cup is the brainchild of Chris Peacock who came up with the idea after he noticed how difficult and often painful it proved for a family member who had tremors, to enjoy the British institution that is the cup of tea. This was down to the design of the traditional cup, made from heavy ceramic, with small fixed handles, which has to be held at a vertical angle to avoid spillages.

The HandSteady design

Chris’ new design aims to combat the difficulties associated with the traditional cup and was created alongside health experts and people with long-term physical conditions.

Made from lightweight plastic, the cup is much lighter than a standard cup and the rotating handle is designed to keep the cup upright, but also makes it much easier to tip the cup to drink, without the need to bend your wrist or lift your arm. It is designed to counteract any unwanted motion associated with a number of health conditions such as arthritis or tremors and to reduce the pain and effort required to drink, for less spills and more control.

For use on the go, there is also a hidden lid accessory which can be used as a travel cup or to hold a straw. Plus it makes it easier and requires less effort to drink when lying down as you can hold the mug at a comfortable side angle. It can even be used one handed giving users more independence to drink unaided.

The best bit is that it looks like your average cup made from bone china and nothing like a toddler’s sippy cup, but with all the added benefits and its dishwasher safe.

How does it work? (the technical bit!)

The cup’s handle can rotate a full 360 degrees and uses gravity to keep it upright, so the user can hold it at whatever angle is most comfortable for them, meaning even if your hand shakes, the cup doesn’t. The handle can be used upside down, which lowers the cup’s centre of gravity below the hand, giving it even greater stability. The oversized handle also spreads the pressure of the cup’s weight across the hand and is large enough to hold with all 4 fingers, making it easier to hold.

Where can I get my hands on one?

The cup is available to buy online for £40, including the lid, and comes with a 12 month warranty and a 30 day money back guarantee, if it doesn’t work for you. Chris is committed to lowering the price of the cup and having seen the impact it can have on people’s lives is working to make it readily available on the high street.

HandSteady have just launched a crowdfunding pre-order campaign where they are hoping to get enough backers to raise £10,000 and make a bulk order to reduce the price down to £15.

Why we like it

We love how simple this design is and that it does what it says on the tin! It’s a great reminder that innovation isn’t always about brand new technologies, and that the smallest of tweaks can have a huge impact and dramatically increase independence.

This product has incorporated both great engineering and great design and yet is still both practical and portable! We also really like how Chris is using crowdfunding as a way for people to pre-order cups to help drive the price down. That’s innovation fueling innovation right there!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Disability Innovations: How bats can help visually impaired people cycle

Five cyclists in a line with UltraBike technology affixed to their bikes

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is the UltraBike?

If you have a visual impairment and want to cycle, your only real option right now is to ride a tandem with a sighted ‘pilot’, who can steer you and guide you . The UltraBike is a ‘kit’ that can be fixed to the handlebars of a bicycle to enable a visually impaired person to cycle independently.

How does the UltraBike work?

The UltraBike uses technology inspired by bats, who use ultrasonic hearing to avoid obstacles when moving around the dark.

The technology was originally applied to the UltraCane, a high-tech white cane for people with visual impairments. It emits ultrasonic sound waves, which bounce off objects and back to the cane. The cane then beeps and vibrates in response, to alert the user of the obstacle. Beeps and vibrations increase in frequency as the object gets closer.

The UltraBike kit is detachable and can be fixed to the front of any bike. It’s made up of two ultrasound sensors on the handlebars, which detect obstacles in the cyclist’s path, both in front and to either side of the bike. Then there are two ‘arms’ attached, one on each handle, containing “tractor” buttons. The cyclist places their thumbs on these buttons, which vibrate when the sensors detect obstacles. Sensors work up to 8 metres ahead, so can give the cyclist plenty of warning to change direction or stop.

Who can use the UltraBike?

The kit can be attached to the handlebars of any child or adult’s bicycle. It is only designed for use on a controlled cycle track and not on busy roads or streets. It has great potential for future use in sports and velodromes, as an alternative to tandem cycling.

The kit has already been used by many cycling clubs with visually impaired cyclists, at large cycling events and has even been featured at the Science Museum.

The developers behind the UltraBike, Sound Foresight Technology, are looking to further develop the UltraBike kit this year, to enable it to be adapted for more types of bicycles. They will be holding more events with it in this summer.

Why we like UltraBike

The best bit about the kit is that it’s portable, and allows you to adapt any mainstream bike into an accessible bike, without the need for expensive specialist technology.

We love how it takes the existing technology used in white canes, and puts it to a whole new use. After all, innovation is all about taking old ideas and using them in new and exciting ways!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk