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Wooden Spoon donation paves way for disability aid

A piece of technology with the capacity to transform lives is fast becoming a reality thanks to the regional branch of nationwide charity Wooden Spoon (WS).

The ‘universal controller’ is a piece of software which enables people with a disability to operate all manner of appliances and devices.   

It is being designed to take instruction from any assistive piece of equipment, such as a wheelchair joystick or eye-gaze equipment, and operate internet and Wi-Fi enabled applications.

The development of the controller is the result of a competition spearheaded by Barrie Mair, who is part of the Chilterns region of WS, covering Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and part of Oxfordshire.

The children’s charity of British rugby, WS raises funds for capital projects to help children who are physically, mentally and socially disabled.

Barrie, who lives in Bray, said new technology takes a long time to reach the relatively small disabled market so he and fellow WS member, Clive Lattimer, looked into creating something from scratch.

In 2017, in partnership with Imperial College London, they ran a competition for special needs schools and charities providing services to disabled children.

The challenge for the teachers and volunteers taking part was to come up with a product which would help the children they work with – but which is not yet available.

Barrie said: “The winners had a common theme, which was for disabled individuals, whatever their incapacity and preferred control device, to be able to communicate through a single device with the Internet of Things [devices controlled by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth].”

WS presented the brief to 12 research students at ICL in the summer of 2018, who were able to create the controller using £30,000 from WS Chilterns.

It has been presented to the World Health Organisation and adopted by the NHS, and it is now being developed further by University College London, which is the UK hub for disability developmental work.

Aimed at helping as many people as possible, the software is open source so it is publicly available to use and customise.

Barrie said: “We are only concerned that the product is widely adapted and that it will encourage others to devote time, money and energy into productive investment for this under-represented part of our community.”

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