Category Archives: Assistive Technology

Review: myHailo Call Alert for Refuelling Your Car

As a disabled driver and wheelchair user, refuelling my car has always been a bit of a challenge, and not the most dignified of experiences.

I always try to make sure that I never run too low on petrol and tend to use the same fuel stations for filling up. I have found that the smaller petrol stations do not always have someone on hand to come and assist me, which can be really inconvenient, especially if I am running low on fuel. Once I am at the petrol station, I have to make sure that I use one of the refuelling points near the forecourt window, so that the staff can see me, which can mean a bit of a wait if the station is busy. I then have to loudly blast my horn to try to catch their attention, whilst frantically waving my blue badge at them.

This always creates confusion and a huge amount of attention from other drivers, wondering what I am doing. I am not one to enjoy attention so I have found this quite hard to do but I have had to just grit my teeth and get on with it. One of my local stations has revamped their forecourt and I can no longer see the staff properly so I have to call them on my mobile, but if the tills are busy, they don’t always answer the phone!

Finally, when the assistants do appear, they are always very helpful and once they have filled the tank, I pay with my credit card. My card is authorised with a signature, rather than a pin, so that the attendant can take the payment without me having to get out of the car.

I recently came across myHailo,  a call alert system for disabled drivers needing to refuel their car, which has been fairly recently launched and is being rolled out to petrol stations around the country. Perfect!

So, once I had received myHailo key fob, I went to my nearest Sainsbury’s, who I was delighted to find had signed up to the scheme. This time, I parked at one of the pumps at the rear of the petrol station, turned off my engine and then pressed the button on the fob. A receiver at the front of the forecourt, above the shop, flashed red. I could see that this immediately alerted the staff and with a discreet wave of my blue badge they located me and immediately came out to serve me. As soon as they had received the alert, the receiver then flashed green, to reassure me that they were on their way.

It was a lovely feeling, to not have to blast my horn and create havoc as I normally do and to have such a quick response from the staff was impressive. I would really recommend myHailo to other disabled drivers and also to anyone who is elderly and finds it difficult to get in and out of the car. It is also reassuring that the scheme is endorsed by Disabled Motoring UK.

MyHailo can be purchased for £14.95 and you can check as to whether myHailo is available at your local fuel station by visiting their myHailo zone page. If it isn’t, then talk to your local petrol station and suggest that they install it, or myHailo have a letter that you can print out from their website to hand to them, to suggest the scheme.

By coincidence, I also received a promotion in the post this morning from Shell drivers club, about their new Fill Up & Go App which enables you to pay for your fuel as you fill your tank, without having to go to the tills. Take a look at the video below to see how it works – I have yet to try it.

 

Life is slowly getting easier for us disabled peeps and it is the little things, like hassle free refuelling of your car that make a big difference. Happy motoring folks :)

By Katherine, designed2enable.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Hugh Herr – Double Amputee & Bionics Inventor

Hugh Herr Amputee - Bionic Prosthetic Inventor

Hugg Herr; Bionic Prosthetic Inventor

Have you ever wondered whether something that is perceived as your shortcoming, something that stops you from living life in a “normal” way, could actually be seen as an opportunity to push past conventional boundaries?

Hugh Herr is doing just that. He has created bionic limbs that are more flexible, more versatile, and much stronger than normal biological limbs, and is challenging our understanding of disability as something that hinders us from doing the things we love. Through his creations he is managing to bridge the gap between disability and ability, and at the same time exploring human limitation and potential.

Herr had both legs amputated below the knee after tissue damage from frostbite in a mountain climbing accident.  He was very well known in climbing circles, and at 17 years old, he had scaled cliff faces that no adult had ever attempted before. As a teenage climbing phenomenon, he met fellow climber Jeff Batzer and together decided to scale Mount Washington in New Hampshire. As they set out, avalanche conditions set in, but they kept going in the snow, believing it mild enough to manage, enjoying themselves. The conditions got worse, visibility was poor, and they got higher and higher on the mountain and further north, meaning further away from civilisation. They realised they needed to turn around, but Herr fell through ice during a river crossing and lost body heat and precious energy. After three days on the mountain they were eventually rescued, but Herr’s legs were severely frostbitten and gangrene was threatening to creep into the rest of his body. Seven surgeries later and doctors were still unable to get blood flowing back into his feet. His legs were amputated just below the knees, and he was fitted with legs made from plaster of paris. He cried every day for two years, his main focus not so much walking again, but whether he could climb. All he wanted was to feel normal again.

Image: Heinz Award

Image: Heinz Award

A few months after his surgery, he was fitted with a pair of acrylic legs, and took himself back into the mountains. As he climbed he realised that the real parts of his body got colder and achier, while his artificial limbs had no muscle fatigue whatsoever. He could also move a lot more quickly, because the amputations had left him 14 pounds lighter. This was when he had the realisation that fake limbs could possibly outperform real ones. A life changing realisation and one that set him on the path to creating dynamic bionic limbs that moved and felt better than real ones.

He realised there was a gap in artificial limb technology for bionic limbs – data driven creations rather than artisan crafted. So he filled that gap.

hugh herr double amputee

image: Shaun G Henry for Forbes

How do his legs work? There are three interfaces – mechanical, dynamic, and electrical.

Mechanically, he discovered a way to attach the limbs to the body in a comfortable and durable way – a relief for anyone who wears an artificial limb and endures the pain where the artificial and biological limbs meet. Where the body is stiff, he made the synthetic skin soft, and vice versa. This was done through a combination of MRI scans, robotic data and experimenting with different synthetic materials.

Dynamically, it was necessary to understand what each muscle does, how they connect with each other, and how those muscles are controlled by the spine.

Electrically, he realised that to make the limbs feel real, they needed to be a real part of the body, connecting with other processes, most importantly, the nervous system. He modelled the artificial limb on the biological limb, and researched the spinal reflexes and connections between the limb and the brain. He even went a step further, realising that through motor channels we can sense how a person wants to move. He now wears synthetic limbs that move and FEEL like flesh and bone.

Over half the world’s population suffers from some kind of cognitive, emotional sensory and motor condition, and due to poor technology these conditions so often end up as some form of disability.

Herr believes every person should have the right to live life without disability. To be able to see a loved one even with impaired sight, to be able to live without severe depression, to walk or dance in the case of limb paralysis or amputation.

Herr is shifting our viewpoint on disability and amputation, from the belief that a person is broken, to the idea that our environment is disabled and inadequate. A broken body is not a broken person.

He is passionate about bringing this innovative technology to the people that need it.

For more information on Hugh Herr and his work, see his Ted Talk, “The New Bionics That Let Us Run, Climb and Dance”:

 

 

Surf Therapy

Adapted Surfboard for disabiity

Image: Surfability

Surf’s Up!

An exciting new development in surf technology is making headway for wheelchair users to experience the waves first hand.

Cerebra Innovation Centre,  in partnership with Surfability UK and Tonic Surf Therapy, have begun designing bespoke surf boards for people with limited mobility and neurological difficulties, allowing wheelchair-bound adrenaline junkies to get out of their chairs and onto the water.

Kai Lewis is a thirteen year old boy from Port Talbot, who suffered a stroke at age one and consequently lives with cerebral palsy.  He helped to test out the new products recently out on the water at Llangennith Beach in West Wales. Onlookers watched as Kai surfed his first wave, with a little help from his tandem surfer, a trained surf instructor riding on the back of his board. The board is a pioneer surf product, with a supportive “bucket” seat and space on the back for an experienced surfer to steer it in the right direction. Kai had a very successful day out on the water, catching waves with a huge grin on his face and his mother looking on proudly.

Adapted surfboard

Image: Surfability

Surfability UK (surfing for disabled children) and Tonic Surf Therapy (working with surf and ocean therapy programmes in the UK and the USA) have teamed up with Cerebra Innovation Clinic to develop this product. Surfability UK was founded in 2013, as a response to increasing demand for inclusive surfing lessons that would allow people living with disabilities to experience the surf first hand. They design specific surf lessons and experiences for groups and individuals based on their needs, in a safe and supportive environment. Amongst their equipment are Tandem Surfboards, Surfing Helmets, Buoyancy Aids and Beach Access Wheelchairs. They also use innovative communication with IPad software to ensure clear communication and instruction between teacher and student.

They aren’t the first to make progress in making surf more accessible to wheelchair users, but they are the first to create individualised products for specific conditions.  Ross Head, CIC Product Design Manager, says that “since its inception, CIC has made a tremendous difference to the lives of many children with neurological conditions across the UK. The unique strategic vision for CIC means that we are able to respond to individual requests for help and can make small numbers of bespoke products that focus heavily on individual requirements and inclusion into society.”

Overall, the day was a great success, supported by top weather conditions and a supportive team by Kai’s side. His mother,  Leanne Lewis, expressed her pride, saying “hopefully it’s going to get more children out of their wheelchairs… The more you can get them out the better.” Most exciting is what these continuing innovations in surf and mobility technology represent for the future, for wheelchair users, and for surf lovers alike. If you’re a surfer, or you simply love the water, you’ll know the thrill of the wave, and the residual calm, and how the water becomes like a meditation when you immerse yourself in it. Everyone deserves to experience that feeling, and now they can, thanks to CIC, Surfability UK and Tonic Surf Therapy.

For more information on innovative surf technology and therapy, take a look at the following:
Surfability UK:  http://www.surfabilityukcic.org/
Cerebra: http://w3.cerebra.org.uk/
Tonic Surf Therapy: http://www.cynnalycardi.org.uk/

Author credit:  Rosie Moreton for designed2enable.co.uk

Making Hearing Aids More Glamorous!

Bedazzled hearing aid

Hanna Agar / hannaagar.com / Via thelaughingphotographer.tumblr.com

There are currently over 11 million people in the UK with hearing loss, or one in six of the population. This looks to rise to 15.6 million by 2035, to one in five people. Over 70% of people over the age of 70 have some kind of hearing loss. Hearing aids generally tend to look awkward and bulky and clearly announce the fact that you have difficulty hearing. Very few people relish wearing one and will struggle on for as long as possible without. But it seems that we may not be that far away from hearing aids becoming the next new fashion accessory.

stylish hearing aids

Hanna Agar / hannaagar.com / Via thelaughingphotographer.tumblr.com

American artist Elena Langer was Inspired by her elegant grandmother who resisted wearing a hearing aid due to the stigma associated with them. Elena, who who runs the ethical project blog “What I Live By”  set about making hearing aids more glamorous and more like jewellery. She  teamed up with NYC photographer Hanna Agar, they created a dazzling series of shots in real world senarios. Elena modelled for the photo shoot, wearing her hand crafted pieces that looked more like an extravagant pair of earrings, dripping with diamonds, than a hearing aid.

modern hearing aids

Hanna Agar / hannaagar.com / Via thelaughingphotographer.tumblr.com

In certain environments, such as busy restaurants or large groups of people or with background noise, the current hearing aids are not always that effective. Using a more minimal approach, a new company called Soundhawk have developed a sleek new hearing device that utilises smartphone and sensor technology to overcome this problem. Soundhawk is not a hearing aid, but it was created by some of the world’s leading hearing experts. Soundhawk is designed for people who struggle to understand soft speech, have difficulty hearing conversation over distances, or have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments.

Soundhawk hearing aid device

Phot: Soundhawk

Soundhawk works by increasing the strength of the sounds that you want to hear whilst de-emphasising background noise. The smart listening system includes the Scoop (the earpiece) and a Wireless Mic, which when placed near the sound source delivers clear sound to the Scoop – even in the noisiest of places like restaurants or a lively dinner table. The Wireless Mic has a range of up to 33 feet and can be placed on a table or clipped onto the clothing of the person you are talking to. A charging case is included with a USB that plugs into an outlet or computer to charge. The devices are unified by a simple mobile App. The reviews are generally good but for a few customers it seems as if Soundhawk was not always the solution. However, their customer service seemed quick to respond and refund.  Soundhawk is currently only available in the United States but we have been advised that international shipping is in the pipeline.

babelfisk glasses

Taking a slightly alternative approach, Babelfisk visual hearing aid is a concept device created by Danish industrial designer Mads Hindhede. The hearing aid is housed in a pair of glasses with built in speech recognition software and the speech is converted into text in the form of speech bubbles which display on the glasses.

Babelfisk speech-recognition-glasses

Babelfisk speech recognition glasses

The device has two built in microphones which also address the issue of where the sound is coming from, helping the wearer to adapt to a 3D environment that sound creates.

Although Bablefisk does not appear to have moved on from its concept stage, it still offers a vision for an intelligently designed approach to hearing loss.

 

 

 

 

Inspirational People – Martha Lane Fox

Baroness-Martha-Lane-Fox-008

Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer Gary Calton/Observer

Martha Lane Fox has spent her career as a champion for digital technology. She was the co-founder of Lastminute.com, the travel website that was of the first dotcom boom, which floated at an over inflated share price. The boom then turned to bust, causing the share prices to crash. She then spent three years building it back up with her co-founder, Brent Hoberman, before selling it, making herself a cool £13m in the process!

Martha credits her insanely privileged education, an unbelievably loving home life and massive amounts of luck to her success. But she has also experienced more than her fair share of bad luck. In 2004, shortly after leaving Lastminute.com, she suffered a horrific car accident in Morocco in 2004. She was not expected to survive. She broke 28 bones, smashed her pelvis, suffered a stroke, spent over a year in hospital, and is still dealing with the ongoing health issues it’s caused. She is left needing to use a walking stick, with constant pain and has had 28 operations in total.

With a passion for social causes, she has thrown her energies into the deep and troubling inequality in this country, believing that technological inequality exacerbates social, educational and financial inequalities and is a leader of digital culture and access in the UK.

For three years Martha was the government’s digital champion, working for Gordon Brown then David Cameron and was appointed a crossbench peer in the House of Lords in March 2013. At 42, she is the youngest female member of the House of Lords; she celebrated her nomination by tweeting whether she’d get free cocktails and a set of nipple tassels (the Soho Society supplied the latter)! She is currently chair of Go On UK, a coalition of public and private sector partners that are helping millions more people and organisations online.

She has supported Reprieve for years as well as a children’s legal support charity, Just for Kids Law, and her own grant-making trust, Antigone.

In March 2014, she was appointed Chancellor of the Open University. Martha co-founded and chairs Luckyvoice, revolutionising the karaoke industry. She chairs MakieLab, she is also on the board of Marks & Spencers and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, whilst being a member of the 30 Percent Club that aims to get more women on boards and supports women in business and technology. In 2013 Martha was awarded a CBE.

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