Awarding the unsung heroes of innovation

Every January the announcement of the Oscar nominations seems to kick off the annual awards season. Far from the glitzy world of the Academy Awards, but no less important, we’ve already been invited to submit nominations for 2017 awards as wide-ranging as the Scottish Social Services Awards and the BBC One Show Cook of The Year Award, to name but two.

Completely different again is another annual award scheme you’ve probably never heard of but which is quietly bringing about life-changing results for people with disabilities. Since 2013 the Blackwood Design Awards have led the way in championing innovative ideas to improve disabled people’s quality of life.

At their 2017 award ceremony in Dundee last month, the prize for best new product went to Glassouses, lightweight glasses that enable people without use of their arms to use technology. They use Bluetooth to link to a PC, tablet or phone, with a mouthpiece serving as a mouse, and biting down acting as a click.

We know well from our guests at Leuchie that one of the biggest feelings of frustration and isolation as a long term condition progresses is around loss of independence. Ingenious inventions like this can do so much to enable them to continue to live as independently as possible.

Last year’s winner was the S’up Spoon, an unspillable spoon for people with cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s which is now revolutionising mealtimes for people around the world.

Recently, a new application of this spoon was revealed on BBC Two’s The Big Life Fix when it was used to provide a solution for Emma, a graphic designer with Parkinson’s. The uncontrollable tremors associated with the disease had robbed her of her ability to write and draw. Inspired by the way the S’up Spoon counteracts tremors through vibrations, the designers incorporated tiny vibrating motors into a wristband for her. The look on her face when it allowed her to write her name and draw a straight line again said it all.

So bring on the awards season. Let’s roll out the red carpet and lead the fanfare for the unsung heroes changing lives through such remarkable innovation.

Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive, Leuchie House. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 3 February 2017.