An offhand remark, jokingly made from one friend to another, turned out to be the first step on a journey into the realms of accessible design. Tom Forsyth and Laura Maclean speak to bespoken about their joint invention that is a game changer for visually impaired people.
Where to begin
Glasgow resident Tom Forsyth has been without sight for over 20 years. ‘Round about my early twenties, they noticed that there was something going on in my eyes. What happened was, the doctor made a “Super-duper” laser which he got in the operating theatre. However the burns from the laser were so intense on my retina that a membrane had formed and he said, “no bother. I’ll take it off.” So I said “okay” and it was of course a mistake. When he tried to remove the membrane, my retina was torn and that was the end of all sight in my right eye. That was in the 90s. And since then, as time has gone by, the left eye has deteriorated also. I’m only conscious of light in my left eye now.’
Laura moved in next door to Tom around a year and a half ago and the two soon struck up a friendship, cemented when they walked their dogs together. It was on these casual outings that they stumbled upon a brilliant idea that would potentially serve visually impaired people and guides all over the world.
When out walking the dogs, Tom and Laura found that her being a guide for him was more complicated than might first appear.
‘What I would do’, Tom explains, ‘was hold on to Laura via a small piece of material from her clothing but the dog kept on jumping off and I would lose my grip with Laura. We were just humming and hawing about it and I think I said something like “it would be fantastic if you just had a handle”, and that’s really how it started.’
The two of them mused about the various advantages of a handle and the problems it could solve for a range of people including the guides. Laura recalls a certain degree of discomfort for both of them when out and about. ‘He was a wee bit uncomfortable holding onto me as well. We joked about him holding my arm saying “the neighbours will talk” because his wife’s away. There was that kind of joking between us but it raised a good point that it might be a bit uncomfortable for some people holding onto another person like that.’
Crossing roads was a hazard as Tom’s grip on Laura could easily slip off leaving him stranded in the middle of the road. There had to be a better way.
That night Laura went home and produced the first of what would be several prototypes.
Proving the concept
The theory was simple. Someone guiding a visually impaired person should have an easy to grip handle they can attach to their arm to make it easier, safer and more convenient for both people.
Laura has a background in art & design which served them well in the research and development phase of the project.
‘I destroyed one of my good holdalls just to test the concept because he would nip me a lot just trying to get a hold of my arm.
We did a wee proof of concept the next day. It was just instantly better. There was no nipping, bumping and bashing into each other.’
Tom Continues – ‘Almost the first thing I noticed was – you know when you’re out with a person who is guiding you and who’s guiding you quite close – you’re really two people walking as one. This can be quite awkward at times, especially if you’re walking dogs as well. But with this I was thinking “this is good, I feel far more independent.” It was fantastic and I could have much more leeway with the dog.’
‘I felt a good sense of just being able to do what I felt was more comfortable far more freely, although still with the confidence that came from holding onto Laura.’
Perfecting the design
The next day Laura appeared with version 2.0 of what has since been dubbed Ramble Tag. This 2nd prototype was made from neoprene, which is the same fabric wetsuits are made from. Laura bought a good, solid dog lead from a pet shop and set about tearing it apart to refashion it into the Ramble Tag handle.
It was after the second version they decided to find out what people thought and that Tom, in his own words, started calling people up and “making a nuisance” of himself. “I really have to say that the response has been phenomenal”.
Meeting upon meeting followed with various people and organisations who could give feedback and support to Ramble Tag. “I wanted to see what they thought. Our initial hope was to get endorsements from organisations that would help us to get a manufacturer. The first people I went to see were Sense and they were very enthusiastic. The we went to Deaf Blind Scotland”.
Where do we go from here?
A couple more prototypes followed since and now Tom and Laura and Ramble Tag is now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign which includes a launch video you can view here.
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