In 2014 we launched a challenge prize to inspire innovations from individuals, charities and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that will make a real difference to the everyday lives of disabled people and those close to them.
Tech for all
There are over 12 million people in Britain living with a long-term illness or impairment, and many disabled people rely on tech to support them. However, the development and manufacture of aids, and adaptations of products, has not kept pace with new innovations in tech, materials, or design and manufacturing processes seen in other areas.
The Inclusive Technology Prize was run by Nesta in partnership with Leonard Cheshire Disability and supported by the Department for Work and Pensions, Innovate UK, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and legal firm Irwin Mitchell.
Increasing public interest in the creation of accessible technologies and their ability to make life easier for people living with a disability was one of the prize’s key aims. We also wanted to encourage the co-creation of products and services, making sure the technology was designed with, and by, the users themselves. It was therefore a requirement that all prize entrants should involve disabled people in the design, prototyping and refining of the tech. All our prize entrants were also required to demonstrate a willingness to share their ideas and experiences so we could help grow the culture and market for inclusive technologies.
An initial call for ideas generated over 200 entries which were all showcased via the Inclusive Technology Prize website. Our panel of judges included a range of experts on accessibility, campaigners and users of accessible technology. The judges selected twenty five semi-finalists who were given funding and non-financial support. Ten finalists were then selected and supported to prototype and carry out extensive user-testing. Our ten finalists were at very different stages in the development process when they entered the prize. Some already had working prototypes, while others developed ideas specifically for the challenge prize.
A final award of £50,000 was given to AzuleJoe for its open source assistive communication software that gives a voice to people with communication difficulties. The software runs on a variety of platforms, from iPads to laptops to Kindles, without a complex setup or installation. It displays a set of personalised icons representing words, which a user can look through to find the word they want to express and, once selected, their device will say it for them. All the code is hosted online via GitHub and volunteers from around the world contribute to its development.
In addition to the top prize, we also awarded £35,000 to Evolvable Walking Aid, a modular device that can be adapted when a user’s mobility condition changes, and £15,000 to the How Do I? team to develop an NFC-enabled app offering instructional life skills videos to young people with learning difficulties.
Finalist Nimble, a portable tool to allow packaging to be opened with a single finger, also went on to raise £35,000 via Kickstarter. Nimble’s crowdfunding campaign, which launched with an original fundraising target of just £5,000, provided the team with the extra funds needed to finish R&D and take the product to market, which it hopes to do by the end of 2016.
The products and ideas rewarded via the Inclusive Technology Prize received national media coverage including pieces in The Guardian, The Huffington Post and a number of trade titles. The prize was also shared on social media by nearly 2,000 Twitter users, giving it a total social media reach of 1.5 million people.
All ten of our finalists reported improvements in their ability to negotiate commercial partnerships as a direct result of taking part in the competition - nine out of ten have now finalised at least one partnership. Our finalists also commented on the benefits of the prize as an effective tool to support and encourage the co-creation of products with disabled users.