bespoken is launching a new design challenge for 2012!


This year we have teamed up with 3 Universities – Brunel, Coventry and Loughborough – and we want your insight and expertise to guide them.


This is how it works – we have final year design students at all these universities looking for inspiration for their projects.  They want to create something that meets a real need.


Tell us your ideas, issue your challenges and the students will select their projects from this list.


So – what doesn’t exist that should?  What should these bright young minds be working on?  I’ve left the ideas from last year below to get you started.


The floor is yours…

Views: 2458

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

What an excellent idea, Jane.

Give me some time with this, and I will do some research. 

People do not think laterally enough: they look at the wheelchair and they look at the stairlift and they think:" NO! It can't be done!"

However, I think it has possibilities, with a little alteration, great things can happen!

One engineer I knew, who was quadriplegic, gathered all his friends together, and they designed a hand propelled lift in a  downstairs cupboard which came out through the first floor landing. It was excellent, and he used it daily, and felt safe, because it could still be used in the event of fire.

Kind regards,


An excellent idea. I'm a powerchair user so I doubt that hooking my chair, which weighs almost 150Kg on its own, to a chair lift mechanism would work - the strains on the rail and drive mechanism would be enough to twist and tear the mechanism off the stairs. I suspect this may also be a problem even for those in manual chairs.

But ... how about a TWIN-RAIL design? Ie, something like two standard chairlift mechanisms - one on either side of the stairs. In-between, in place of chairs, place a platform. Drive the wheelchair onto the platform, press a button and the platform "climbs" the stairs, carrying the wheelchair and passenger. At the top of the stairs, the wheelchair simply drives/rolls off. The platform could either slide forward to lie flat on the landing (ready for descent) or descend unloaded to the bottom of the stairs where it would lie flat on the hall flooring. Either way, it shouldn't present a major trip hazard to those disadvantaged through having to use their feet to walk normally :>)

I'd be VERY interested in a design such as this. I've been looking seriously at conventional "through floor" wheelchair lifts. There are some innovative designs about but they all take a fair bit of space and can be difficult / impossible to fit into many homes. They are also universally expensive. A twin-stairlift would seem to offer a more economical prospect with little or no adjustment to many homes.

Thinking about this, products already exist that can climb short distances in thsi way - you often see them inside shops that have a short flight of steps at the entrance. Could these not be extended to cover a full flight of ctairs?

I had never considered this would be for people who used powered wheelchairs, this is for people who need the stairlift for shorter periods of time, ie cancer care , MND, situations where we see the client deterioating and who may have a life limiting conditions. If some one has fairly stable long term needs there are other solutions which would meet their needs.






> "If some one has fairly stable long term needs there are other solutions which would meet their needs."

Tell me more!


Quite agree, George. I would like to know more too!

I liked your well thought out response. And it has definite potential,allowing a freedom of access which many find difficult to achieve. Once safety measures have been considered, and an emergency manual mode designed, I can see that you have the seeds of something serious.

Those needing such an adaptation are mainly those living with a fairly stable long term conditions. They are, and have always been, the pioneers of such innovations, necessity being the mother of invention!

I have also seen the occasional lift placed on the OUTSIDE of houses. 

Sometimes, if we don not have the interior room, we can find it outside.

 I agree that through floor lifts can be expensive if you go to the manufacturer.

When you have a body of qualified, able men, willing to do what they can with what is available, from what I understand, it was extremely cheap!

That is the other issue that requires to be addressed: why does everything cost so much when you have a disability?

Outside stairlifts are fine where you can fit them (though ensuring they are adequately insulated can be a problem). In many houses (my current house included) the stairwell is central as is the upper landing - with bedrooms / bathrooms leading off from this central space. Ie, there's no external access (through a wall or window) to the landing itself. This means that an external lift would have to access the upper floor through an existing bedroom.

Aahhh - compromise to expect you must, I hear Yoda saying. But how much compromise? That's the issue. Problems with exterior lifts include:

* The lift companies often use existing window openings (cost, additional strengthening etc) which can leave the room without adequate light or air.

* Once the space required to turn a wheelchair and provide a space through the room is taken into account, there's often little left for odd things like beds or the other furniture the room used to contain - in other words, you've just turned a bedroom (which possibly once had a nice airy feel to it) into a dark and dismal corridor extension.

The prospect of a STAIRLIFT for my wheelchair could certainly prove cheaper and more practical than an internal or external through-floor lift, loses NO space within the house (OK - the important person might want to have some say in the "decor" applied to the platform) while avoiding the need to transfer (with consequent risk of falls etc).

Safety and manual control would be easily satisfied if the mechanism used a "screw and captive nut" form of drive. In the event of power failure, the lift motors could act as brakes while the lift descended under its own weight to ground level. Manual operation? Insert a "starting handle" and start winding!

As you say, necessity leads to invention.

Costs? Don't get me started! The prices attached to many products aimed at the disabled bear no relation to their combined component and manufacturing costs. When I look at the old-fashioned marketing and distribution methods, I am reminded of Japan in the 1980s (or England in the 1950s) when unemployment was low .. because there were so many middle-men in the chain from factory to consumer, each wanting a slice of "profit" that the eventual consumer price became exponentially removed from the cost of whatever thing involved.

I think many manufacturers have lost sght of the fact that theirs is essentially a service industry. One in which they are supposed to be delivering products useful to their customers in a way that they can use them (read afford them).

Take my outdoor powerchair as a case in point. At heart it consists of two car batteries, a commodity motor controller (bought in from an American fork-lift truck manufacturer), lights off a bike, wheels off a quad-bike, a chair that you would turn your nose up if you saw it in a Citroen 2CV - and its one pretence at luxury is an electric seat recline mechanism.

It cost as much as a new Nissan Micra (a car I just chose at random). For the price, the Nissan comes with four comfy seats, an engine containing hundreds of parts subject to stringent emission controls calling for an electronic controller a hundred times more complex than the simple box of power FETs in my powerchair, electric windows, a sunroof, air conditioning ... fill the rest in yourself. And the car is subject to innumerable laws and regulations including crash tests, steering and braking test and so on - none of which apply to a powerchair.

The car is orders of magnitude more complex to design and manufacture, involving closely monitored collaboration with a raft of external suppliers and yet can be delivered to a design and production quality way beyond anything applied to any powerchair I know of on today's market.

Shurely shomething wrong shomewhere?

I know and accept that with some products for the disabled, the tiny production volumes, setup and tooling costs have to recouped ... but those arguments really do not apply to products which a re little more than an assemblage of components bought off the shelf.

Wheelchair manufacturers, stairlift companies, lift companies, vehicle adaptors .. I'm talking about you.

The sadness of it is that if these companies actually took time to design attractive products that were easy to manufacture using modern materials and techniques, not only would they make more money but those of us "service users" would be spared the need for so many "compromises" - not to mention everything from clothing ripped by superfluous brackets and injuries or worse that arise from a lack of real-world testing or the taking of a systemic (holistic, if you will) view.

Ho hum - rant off! :>)


You articulate the argument very well: you express the frustration that thousands feel. And why should it be so?

Question: Does the act of making of essential items much more expensive,  increase the stigma of disability? Does it decrease our ability to become active and effective citizens? Is it behaviour that needs addressed?

The general public is up in arms about the bonuses that bankers are paid. Who will be our ambassador on this issue? We desperately need someone who can explain the very high cost that integration demands of us.

Those who argue that their policy is for"inclusion" must tackle this obstacle. It cannot be merely written in a document. Transformational change takes more than words.


You pose some interesting questions. On cost,

  • It could be argued that it is an individual choice to spend so much on an "expensive" wheelchair - in the same way that some people choose to pay high sums for an exclusive car
  • Equally, it can be argued that the unnecessarily high cost of some items disadvantages those who need an aid but who cannot afford it

To me, the key word above is *need*

You can arguse that nobody "needs" to drive a [insert name of any expensive car] when attractive and functional models are available at a fraction of the cost. That argument is evidence of a working market - eg; a mid-market model Ford/Citroen/Nissan can be (effectively on real roads) as fast and comfortable as an up-market Jaguar/BMW/Bentley. You don't need to buy the Bentley .. but you can choose to buy it.

Contrast with the wheelchair market where lower-cost models are barely functional and are so poorly designed as to cause the problems I've already described. To get a level of functionality that the user needs requires a high expenditure. The user has no choice in the matter if the difference is between maintaining a reasonable level of mobility or not.

In other words, I'm not talking about whether the device has the equivalent of luxuries such as air conditioning, electric sunroofs and wireless MP3 connections. I'm talking about being able to climb an average pavement or get up an average incline. To have lights that allow you to drive safely after dark (of course, we disabled are supposed to be put safely back in our boxes by our carers long before nightfall). To have a control mechanism that allows some reasonable degree of control - rather than have the user colliding with door frames and furniture or - worse - possibly running into a road with fast-flowing traffic (yes, I admit it - all the above have happened to me).

We come back to that word need.

I've just ordered a replacement "paddle" for my dear wife's bread making machine. £15 for a simple bit of moulded plastic bears little relationship to manufacturing cost - even allowing for stockage, distribution etc. But take away my wife's bread maker and we'd lose the enjoyment of fresh bread ... hard to argue as a basic human right, I hope we can all agree.

But take away a wheelchair user's wheels (say, because they can't afford the £440 I saw a dealer recently asking for a set of replacement batteries) and you make a person housebound. Unable to work, socialise or do so many of the things that able-bodied people are entitled to get on and do as a "right".

By now, people probably think I've banged on long enough about wheelchairs - and they're right. So .... anyone with Internet access, fire up Google and type "disabled sock aid" into the search box. One result I'm looking at is an angle-cut plastic tube with a piece of string attached ... yours or mine for a bargain £33.01 - though that price does include VAT! (for some unknown reason).

Other examples include (again) a half-cylinder of plastic attached to a stick. This one's a bargain £32.20.

When I first saw these devices and their prices (many moons ago) I literally burst out laughing. These days, I'm more likely to cry at the thought of the people who need aid but who are being ripped off (I can think of no better phrase) by businesses who are exploiting that need.

And, just in case my capitalist credentials are in doubt, let me say I speak as a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (obviously not on behalf of the Institute).

The argument put forward in justification for these prices is often that the disabled represent such a small market. But let's see ... here's a quote:

"There are over ten million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain"

Source: Department of Work and Pensions (

That's about one sixth of the UK population.

Apply that proportion to just the EU and the USA (the Far East is wealthier than us these days but I can't quickly access the stats) and you have a ready, easily accessible market of about 135 million disabled people.

Of course, we don't all need "sock puller-uppers" but ... that's way more than the number of people who are in the market for cars each year. Combined EU/US car sales last year were around13 million.

Ok - I hear those arguing you can't compare the market for a £10,000 car with that for a £30 sock puller. So ... let's get back to wheelchairs.

In 2010 just over 2 million wheelchairs were sold in the equivalent EU/US market (source: The same research paper estimates the global market for wheelchairs at US$3 biliion (approximately £2,000,000,000) per annum.

That's just wheelchairs people. Just wheelchairs.

Is it really so unreasonable to expect those companies enjoying the profits that come from sales of £2 billion a year to invest just a little back in product design, safety and, just perhaps, reduce the silly prices.

Inclusion? The high cost of products for the disabled IS a barrier to effective inclusion. It's that word need again. The products people need to enable them to function as well as they can need to be affordable to the majority of disabled people.

Disabled people who have to spend a disproportionately high proportion of their income to meet their need or who (by corollary) cannot see their need met through lack of funds are by definition disadvantaged in relation to the majority of the population.

In and amongst all the debate over the cost to government in providing "benefits" to the disabled, I agree, someone needs to be shouting about the rip-off prices charged for products for the disabled.

One or two thoughts to ponder, George...

The Local Authority is tasked with meeting needs, yet no definition of needs has ever been forthcoming. Hence, it can be helpfully recategorised as a "want", if they feel so inclined.

One lady I knew in a wheelchair could not exit her front door, because she was unable to turn the key to get back in herself.  ( She lived alone with assistance from services) Magically, this need became a want. Who would need to get out their front door, pray tell???  It was too expensive to provide a door which she could open herself. yet, a mere seven miles away, in a different Local Authority, I was working with a quadriplegic who came and went through his front door as he wished, due to remote controlled entry.

The very first thing that should be addressed is this definition of need:and I recommend that the new tool-kit that could  be used in conjunction with it. That would prove  the need, as opposed to a flight of fancy!

I know a disabled lawyer, who wanted to upgrade his manual wheelchair to a titanium model, He had polio, and his arms were very weakened, so he found lifting the standard wheelchair into his car to get to work very difficult.

I took him to the exhibition, where the wheelchair came in at £1,500, twenty five years ago. He looked at it enviously; he hummed and hawed; but eventually he decided that he would struggle on rather than part with that money for a piece of titanium four wheels and a bit of canvas.

The worst examples I have come across are in Portugal, where they charged £60 for a non-slip mat in 1994.

It is the passivity that annoys me. Everyone knows that they are being ripped off, but there is no general movement to bring it to the attention of the general public.  meanwhile, they claw back your benefits, telling you that there is no extra expense attached to disability,

I would challenge them.

Come, sit in my chair. Come, feel what the lack of suspension does, Pretend that it has not yet been invented.  Feel every bump in 3D as you go along the pavement.  Pay thousands for this luxury and travel at a glorious 8mph.......because you have no choice. 

If the rules were ours to make,  we could have great fun.

We would give everyone cars to the same specifications as we are allocated our wheelchairs. This unfortunately, will not be cheap, as we will have to charge for removing all the suspension that you enjoy at the moment. Should you be able to afford it, however,  we promise that you will always be given one if you can prove a need. 

Two cars? In case of breakdown? Now, that is taking things a bit far!

I wonder how it would go down?


Would you mind if i used some of you examples, George, in my paper? It is much more believable if it is not simply my own opinion but that of others, and you put it so well!!

Of course Linda - thank you for asking. If I can help further, please let me know.

If you'd like to get in touch, start at where you'll find my contact details.


© 2021   Created by Gordon White.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service