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UCL innovation hub aims to improve lives of disabled people around the world

A UCL-hosted innovation hub is helping to accelerate the global development and provision of assistive technologies to improve the lives of all people with disabilities.

15 April 2019

New approaches to assistive technology

The Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub, a collaboration of several institutions, is hosted by UCL’s Department of Computer Science and headquartered at Here East – part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Born out of the legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, it was launched by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in 2016.

Now, a £19.8 million project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), will support the GDI in delivering a new programme – AT 2030: Life Changing Assistive Technology for All. 

The aim is to reach more than nine million people, testing new approaches to assistive products and service design, as well as the markets which support their provision globally.

Becoming a leader in disability innovation

The GDI is formed of an academic research centre and a non-profit community interest company (CIC; a type a social enterprise introduced by the UK government in 2005). The CIC was set up in 2018 with assistance from UCL Innovation & Enterprise. 

Partners at the GDI include Loughborough University, the University of the Arts, London, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and the London Legacy Development Corporation.

The aim, over the next ten years, is for the GDI to become the leading place to research, study, practice and share disability innovation, globally.

Next year, the GDI Hub plans to launch a new MSc in Disability, Design and Innovation. Full scholarships will be available for disabled students as it grows a community of disability innovators.

Building on the Paralympic legacy

Commenting on the ongoing development of the GDI, its Academic Director, Dr Catherine Holloway, said: "Early support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise, in the form of knowledge exchange funding and business advice, enabled GDI to ready itself for business engagement with government and other funding partners. This ultimately led to us securing this prestigious government funding."

Welcoming the latest funding for the AT 2030 programme, Victoria Austin, GDI Director of Strategy and Partnerships, added: "This is exactly the type of programme we envisaged when we established GDI as a lasting legacy to London 2012.

"Working with a team of experts from across the world, this new programme will build on the approach to disability innovation developed during the 2012 Games."

The programme, led by the GDI, will be delivered by a global partnership including the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The growing impact of GDI

Originally, the AT 2030 project was to be funded with £10 million from DFID, but after seeing "amazing early results", the Minister of State for International Development, Lord Bates, announced a near doubling in investment to £19.8million. This will be 100% matched by the private sector, country governments, academic institutions, NGOs and other partners.

The GDI has a major presence in Europe, Asia and Africa – with some particularly exciting projects in Kenya. While the country has a burgeoning tech sector, it risks leaving people with disabilities behind. A project called Motivation is aiming to develop the next generation of wheelchair provision for low to middle-income countries. Over the past two years, Motivation has been testing how the use of 'additive manufacturing' can better inform design and manufacturing processes. The GDI is supporting Motivation in testing and evaluating their new provision system in Kenya.

A different project in Uganda is aiming to improve learning outcomes among children with hearing and sight impairments using assistive technology and accessible learning materials. Ultimately, it hopes to increase participation in primary school and transition into secondary education. The GDI is working to support Makarere University in evaluating the programme.

Also in Uganda, an ambitious project starting in April 2019 is investigating the potential of using a combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing to provide customised prosthetics and orthotics (including footwear, splints and braces) to people with disabilities living in refugee camps, disaster relief and conflict situations.

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Funding source: EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) award to UCL 2017-20 (Grant References: EP/N022971/1; EP/M025543/1; EP/R013985/1)

Photo of the Motivation project for wheelchair provision being trialled in India supplied by The Global Disability Innovation Hub.

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