Mobility Unlimited Challenge life after lockdown

Four prominent advocates for the disability community – Sophie Morgan, Ade Adeptian, August de los Reyes, and Emily Smith Beitiks – have discussed what the world looks like for the disability community post-lockdown.

Commissioned by Toyota’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge – the conversation saw presenter and disability rights campaigner Sophie Morgan, presenter and athlete Ade Adeptian, design pioneer August de los Reyes, and disability studies scholar Emily Smith Beitiks, share their unique thoughts and perspectives.

It comes following months of travel restrictions, self-isolation and social distancing which have forced the non-disabled community to experience many of the same mobility and accessibility restrictions that face the disabled community on a regular basis.

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The group highlighted how these restrictions have accelerated society’s transition online, unlocking the door to previously inaccessible spaces such as museums, art galleries, and music venues.

In addition, the acceptance of remote working has also confirmed that it is possible to be present and productive at home.

Discussing the impact the lockdown measures had on his life, powerchair user August de los Reyes examined some of the positive aspects that these restrictions have had, alongside the negative.

The former Head of Design at Xbox, Pinterest and now Chief Designer at Varo Money, commented: “One of the things I am enjoying but I am afraid will go away is the social distancing.

“One of the most dreaded things, especially as a power wheelchair user, is navigating a restaurant where the tables are close together and it’s really challenging getting between customers. Now, with social distancing, everything is nicely spaced.

“Even in the grocery store, the aisles are all one-way, so there is a steady flow of traffic and I can actually turn around in my chair in the aisles.”

The fascinating conversation – Life After Lockdown – also discussed the importance of universal design, co-creation, and aesthetics when it comes to designing and creating mobility devices.

Additionally, the panel examined the impact of assistive technology on job opportunities and visibility, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future.

“We are grateful that Ade, August, Emily, and Sophie provided us with a candid and rich discussion about the experiences of the disability community during these times of lockdown,” commented Julie Ann Burandt, Global Head of Communications at the Toyota Mobility Foundation.

“We all have much to learn from the disability community, and this conversation is a great start. Our hope is that the devices supported by the Mobility Unlimited Challenge reach users to provide them with improved mobility, both in times of lockdown and beyond.”

The conversation will be available to view via the Mobility Unlimited Challenge social channels and download soon.

Woven into the conversation were the five Mobility Unlimited Challenge finalist devices: a discreet, wearable device; a sit-to-stand chair; an exoskeleton; ultra-lightweight wheelchair; and integrated transport system.

Phoenix Instinct on road wheelchair carbon fibre lightweight
The Phoenix AI Ultralight Wheelchair: One of the finalist designs created by British team Phoenix Instinct

The $4 million global challenge, launched in 2017, is run by the Toyota Mobility Foundation – in partnership with Nesta Challenges – and supports radical improvements in the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis through smarter assistive technology.

Among the finalists is British team Phoenix Instinct – headed up by Andrew Slorance, the creator of the original Carbon Black wheelchair – which has designed an ultralight smart wheelchair made from carbon-fibre that incorporates sensors to configure itself to the needs of the users.

The winner’s announcement will take place later this year, and the winning team will receive $1 million to bring their device to market.

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