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Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design
Catherine Peel with one of her speaking signs Catherine Peel and one of her "speaking" signs

Jackie Brown's chair for the Royal Albert Hall Jackie Brown's chair, designed for the Royal Albert Hall


OT's working with Designers

Recent graduates from the Design Research for Disability MA at the London Metropolitan University included two OT's: Catherine Peel and Susie Scorer. A unique aspect of the course is the combination of designers and healthcare professionals amongst the students. It has been a popular and obvious choice for occupational therapists, who are familiar with the limited choices available to disabled people both in the usability of mainstream products and the consequences of under use of specialist equipment that proves to be both undesirable and stigmatising. The integration of designers from areas as diverse as furniture and fashion with occupational therapists has provided an inspirational exchange of ideas and produced a range of inclusive design that respond to the day to day practicalities faced by disabled people.

Each student undertakes design research related to the needs of disabled people in an area of their own choice, that provides evidence of the need for a product or a service. They are then required to develop a design concept to meet the need.

Catherine Peel created a way-finding system designed specifically for Homerton hospital in Hackney to meet the needs of as many hospital visitors as possible by accounting for those with a range of impairments. It aims to overcome communication barriers and to limit the tendency we all have to lose our way when entering a hospital, often preoccupied with our own anxieties. She has created an innovative solution that uses sensory feedback as well as an inventive mapping system that incorporates colour coding and contrast to account for visual impairments. The strategy aims to be adaptable to any healthcare setting. Catherine found the course gave her " a fantastic opportunity to develop new skills in design as well as sharing and developing my own experience."

Susie Scorer has developed a compact, portable lightweight alternative to conventional transfer boards. Her research identified the risks of injury that people with spinal injuries experience if they continue to rely on manual transfers. The existing rather cumbersome solutions, although functional, are rather impractical and awkward for wheelchair users to carry around with them. Susie, who is employed at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, commented: "The course has enabled a thorough appreciation of the design process and will facilitate the development of any further design based solutions to practical problems associated with patient care or treatment."

Lorna Ryan, whose background is in product design, has created a beautifully styled and attractive portable task light that has an ingenious hinging mechanism that allows it to be easily folded away. She has produced a functional solution to the challenges facing individuals with visual impairments that is also a desirable product. She says, " The course bridges the gap between therapists and designers. As a designer, I have been challenged and pushed beyond my comfort zone."

Jacqueline Brown who originally trained as a fashion designer has been working on an accessible theatre chair for the auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall who is keen to see her solution implemented. The chair resolves a number of issues for wheelchair users, providing them with a comfortable solution that also allows easy viewing and blends in with the existing seating., She says, " the course challenged my preconceived ideas about disability and I now wish to share with others the potential of inclusive design.

Course leader, Smadar Samson, has been working to forge links with industry and group projects have included work with Nomique a leading office furniture company. Some of the design concepts developed by the students last year were taken into production and boosted the sales of the company. She hopes that the success of these projects will encourage manufacturers to work closely with both designers and health professionals from the very early stage of product development to ensure that user needs are met with functional, affordable yet desirable and non stigmatising products.

Further information about the course can be found here

Marney Walker is an OT at East Sussex Social Services who also teaches the Disability and Society Module on the course.

back to July 2007 archive

London Metropolitan University