An innovative wheelchair wheel design which aims to boost accessibility for wheelchairs users with a spinal cord injury has won a prestigious competition.

Law firm, Bolt Burdon Kemp, which acts for people with spinal cord injuries, organised the Design the Change competition in collaboration with Cereba, a charity that helps children with brain conditions.

The competition, announced last November, was set up to raise awareness of the day-to-day challenges facing people with spinal cord injuries and how innovative designs that boost accessibility can make a real difference.

UK-based university students were invited to design a product aimed at improving the lives of people with a spinal cord injury, with the law firm stating that it was looking for a design which was both unique and practical.

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Winner Thomas Salkeld, 23, a third year Product Design BSc student from Cardiff Metropolitan University, designed the ‘Smart Wheel’, a motorised wheel which can be added to most wheelchairs and provides users with assistance on uneven ground, elevation and on long journeys. The wheel can be controlled from the user’s phone.

Thomas wins £3,000, with an additional £2,000 being awarded to Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Part of Cereba’s work as a charity is to design bespoke equipment to meet families’ needs at its innovation centre, and as part of his prize, Thomas will have a week’s placement at the centre in Wales next year.

Thomas really impressed the judges by researching his design thoroughly and taking into account the challenges facing those with a spinal cord injury who use a wheelchair.

He bought a wheelchair himself and found travelling in it exhausting, especially uphill. He spoke to several people who had sustained a spinal cord injury and who were also wheelchairs users and ran his prototypes by them for feedback.

Highly commended in the competition and also offered a week’s placement at Cerebra is Anna Lis, 21, a third year Product Design student at the University for the Creative Arts. Anna’s Superhuman Shoe and Ankle Foot Orthosis design provides support for people with drop foot, a common side-effect of a spinal cord injury.

The judging panel were impressed with Anna’s detailed research and the fact her shoe celebrates the support it offers, rather than disguising its specialist features.

Victoria Oliver, Head of the Spinal Injury Team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, said: “We were blown away by the quality of the entries this year and it’s fantastic to see how much research went into everyone’s designs.

“A spinal cord injury is a life changing event that makes even the most mundane of tasks time-consuming, and innovative designs and products can really help make the world more accessible to the 50,000 people living with a spinal cord injury in the UK.

“Thomas’s design showed real awareness of the challenges facing those with a spinal cord injury who use a wheelchair and he went to great lengths to make sure his Smart Wheel design was practical, comfortable,  and aesthetically pleasing.”

Winner Thomas Salkeld said: “I am ecstatic about winning the competition as designing to help people is my passion and what I wish to pursue in the future.

“The aim of my design was to really take into consideration what the users want and the problems they face every day in regards to their mobility in a wheelchair, then applying my engineering, design, prototyping and technology skills that were necessary.

“The aesthetics were designed to be functional but also pleasing to the eye, allowing the users to be proud of the product on their wheelchairs.”

Thomas’s design was judged by a panel of experts including Christa Dyson, trustee for the Spinal Injuries Association, Dr Ross Head, Product Design Manager for the Cerebra Innovation Centre, Ian Hoskings, club chairman, vice coach and player for Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair rugby club, Lady-Marie Dawson-Malcolm, Support Network Officer for the Spinal Injuries Association and Doug Nevill, the Head of Mechanical Design at Williams F1.

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