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What is it?

The company designs and sells a range of products to help people with a number of disabilities that affect hand function or control be more active and independent. The gripping aids help with everything from using gym equipment to assisting with DIY or gardening.

How does it work?

Two specific products have been entered for the Inclusive Technology Prize - the Limb Difference Aid which allows users with fingers, or parts of hands missing, to grip bar like objects, and the Fine Motor Aid, which allows users with minimal hand function to grip small items.

Who's behind it?

Active Hands is a family business. The company was founded by Rob Smith, who was left with a spinal cord injury following an accident in 1996. Rob’s sister Mel Burley is a director at the company, and their parents initially assisted Rob to set up the company.

After his accident, Rob became frustrated with the difficulty of performing everyday tasks, particularly in the gym where he needed to rely on a very firm grip to use the equipment. He developed a gripping aid for himself, with the help of his mum, which started to attract a lot of attention from others in the gym. A year after developing a gripping aid for his own use, he started to sell them and eventually incorporated the company in 2007.

The company, which sells a range of products to a global customer base, has grown considerably over the past decade, but Rob says one of the biggest challenges is reaching the right people without spending too much on marketing.

“Our products are only relevant for about two in every 1,000 people,” says Rob. “But for those two people it’s potentially life-changing.” The company makes good use of social media and participation in online communities to spread the word about its products. Rob has also secured product endorsements from Paralympians through his participation in wheelchair racing.

The Active Hands team has used the finalist funding from the Inclusive Technology Prize to help with the development of its two new products, including researching the most cost effective ways to manufacture them.

One of the most important elements to get right is to come up with designs that work for as many users as possible. Following user testing the team looked at strap lengths for different hand sizes and shapes, as well as the positioning of the Velcro fastenings.

Rob says the company’s long-term ambition is to become the ‘go-to place’ for hand function disability products around the world.

The aim of the Inclusive Technology Prize was to inspire technological innovation from individuals and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.