Healthy Living: Engineers map out disabled inventions

healthmainsd'Maurice Elliot, who the car he designed and made for children with spinal muscular atrophy
healthmainsd'Maurice Elliot, who the car he designed and made for children with spinal muscular atrophy
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Charity panel invents gadgets to help people to live more fulfilling and independent lives

A Charity which uses the skills and expertise of retired engineers to transform the lives of people with disabilities by creating innovative gadgets wants to branch out into the Sheffield area. Reporter Sarah Dunn found out more.

healthmainsd'The modified shopping trolley designed for a woman with epilepsy

healthmainsd'The modified shopping trolley designed for a woman with epilepsy

IT can be a quick-fix solution that takes two minutes to solve, or a year-long project involving countless prototypes and revisits to the drawing board.

But the result will be the same – the creation of a one-off device designed to help people with disabilities overcome a specific barrier they face in leading independent and fulfilling lives.

The charity behind it all is Remap – Retired Engineers Make Aids for People – which has a successful panel working in neighbouring Derbyshire under the leadership of chairman Maurice Elliot.

He now wants to help get another local branch set up in Sheffield to serve residents of South Yorkshire and is appealing for the potential talent he believes exists in the area to get in touch.

healthmainsd'The two-year-old boy with spinal muscular atrophy who had a car designed and made for him by Maurice Elliot

healthmainsd'The two-year-old boy with spinal muscular atrophy who had a car designed and made for him by Maurice Elliot

There are 84 panels around the country, made up of experienced engineers who, having now retiremed, are keen to use their skills to continue to keep making a difference.

It works through referrals from professionals like occupational therapists or social workers from people who are having problems with specific issue of their disability.

Examples have included something as simple as a double peg for the washing line – allowing someone with only one arm to be able to hang out their laundry independently – to a fully mechanical toy car for a little boy with the muscle wasting disease spinal muscular atrophy which allowed him to get around on his own.

A beaker attached and tilted on a frame to help a man who had problems drinking is another of their creations, while a lightweight folding trolley – capable of holding shopping with just one hand – was another device crafted for a woman with epilepsy who only had the use of one arm. If she suffered a seizure and let go of the modified handle, the brakes would kick in automatically.

healthmainsd'The little boy with a malformed hand who had a bike specially adapted for him by Remap engineers

healthmainsd'The little boy with a malformed hand who had a bike specially adapted for him by Remap engineers

Another little boy who achieved some much sought-after independence thanks to Remap lived with a malformed right hand.

He wanted to play out on a bicycle like all of his friends but was unable to grasp the handlebars – until it was modified by one of their skilled engineers. The front and back brakes were both operated by the lever on the right handlebar, while a post fitted to the left handlebar allowed him to grasp it and control the bike.

Maurice said it was priceless seeing the impact that such devices could have on the quality of life of people young and old.

“The look on that little boy’s face – when he realised he could chase his mother into the kitchen in his own car – was priceless.

healthmainsd'The beaker which was designed by Remap engineers to help a man who was having difficulty swallowing

healthmainsd'The beaker which was designed by Remap engineers to help a man who was having difficulty swallowing

“That’s what it’s all about and it is very rewarding – on many levels. The main one is seeing someone gain a bit more independence – suddenly they can feed themselves, or move themselves around again and that’s incredible to see. It’s a huge boost to their quality of life.

“On top of that, we are mainly retired engineers – people who like to make things, who like getting stuck in and getting their hands dirty. This is especially so when you’re being innovative, when you have a problem that you are trying to overcome – and it’s very satisfying to be able to carry on using the skills we have to make a difference to people’s lives.”

The engineers make no charge for their time or the products they create, but do receive reimbursement from the charity for materials costs and travel expenses as they travel around their patch visiting those who need their help.

Maurice, who started his working life working on nuclear submarines at Rolls Royce before setting up his own business carrying out inspections of power stations and chemical plants, said: “The process from then on can take anything from two minutes to a year!

“We will work with the client as much or as little as they want – some want to be very involved, others are happy for you to just go away and come back with what you think.

“There will be occasions when someone is having difficulty coming up with an idea, but they can bring the issue to our monthly panel meeting and discuss it with other members.

“With a group of engineers all sat around a table together it’s likely that we will come up with something!

“Our aim is to fill the gap for people with special needs – whether that be a one-off design or customising another piece of commercial equipment so it works better for them.”

Now Maurice, aged 77 and chairman of the Derby, Burton and District panel for the past 10 years, is keen to get a Remap group started in Sheffield again.

The last one folded in 2003 but he believes there is plenty of talent living here which could be untapped. “The area must be full of good engineers!” he said.

They already have chairman Peter Ryder and secretary Audrey Hoggard signed up and Maurice and his team across the border are ready and willing to show any new recruits the ropes.

Anyone interested should contact Audrey on 0114 2879668 or email audrey@sim-soft.net.