Games for everyone

The stadiums for the London Paralympics will be designed for accessibility, but finding funds for Paralympic equipment can be hard, says Tom Banks

With less than 1000 days to go until the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which are held a fortnight after the Olympics, its design is gathering pace. However, as accessibility is factored into stadium design and plans are made to accommodate Olympic and Paralympic sports in the same arenas, much of the Paralympian sports equipment is being designed by charity design groups, which are absorbing the cost where commercial groups can’t.

Paul Malloy, senior designer at Demand, a registered charity which designs and manufactures equipment for Paralympians, says that as so much of the equipment has to be designed bespoke for each athlete, it wouldn’t be viable for a non-charity. ‘No commercial organisations will make these things, so we absorb the cost,’ he says.

Malloy, who leads a team of four designers, cites his work with the UK boccia team, including Jessica Hunter and Cecilia Turk, ahead of their 2012 attempt as an example. The sport, similar to the French game boules, sees competitors with cerebral palsy and other disabilities compete, but the variation in their conditions means a bespoke launching ramp needs to be designed for each player.

Malloy says, ‘Some of them used to use home-made equipment. We’re helping UK athletes, but their symptoms are so different we have to modify each ramp.’ Malloy maintains that this would be ‘uneconomical’ for a commercial firm to design, but says that as a charity, Demand is able to design ad-hoc solutions.

The group has also worked on a ski frame for paraplegic Paralympic skier Russell Docker and a modified wheelchair for air rifle marksman Mandy Pankhurst, both of whom hope to compete with their GB squads. For Pankhurst, a tray has been designed, attachable to her wheelchair, with containers for sights and bullets.

The group has also worked on research and development with Professor Brian Andrews of Brunel University’s Institute for Bioengineering, designing the mechanical components to support electrical stimulation technology, which allows paraplegics to use their legs when rowing.

Malloy is currently working on a support frame for an ex-soldier, who lost his legs in Afghanistan and wants to compete as a shot-putter. ‘He’ll need to be supported so he can launch from an upright position,’ says Malloy.

Like Demand, Motivation, which designs affordable sports wheelchairs for grass-roots tennis and basketball players in the developing world, is a charity, funded by donations. The planned closure of the Audi Design Foundation will see the majority of the ADF’s estimated remaining £20 000 in funding go to the charity (News, DW 10 December).

This, Motivation co-founder David Constantine says, will be put towards the design of a junior sports chair, but he is still appealing for a further £25 000 of funding to make it feasible.

‘From our perspective there will always be people who can’t afford the best equipment, and design needs to consider that it doesn’t need to cost the earth. Anyone should be able to access sport up to a given professional level,’ says Constantine.
Motivation’s tennis and basketball chairs are endorsed by the International Tennis Federation and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation, and the chairs are now being bought in 16 countries at £150 each. Constantine says it is possible that the wheelchairs could be used at Paralympic level, but concedes they are more suited to making the sports accessible for those without proper equipment.
The basketball chairs differ from the tennis models in their defensive wing, which protects against contact. Both feature an adjustable backrest, footrest and fifth wheel, a lightweight welded frame, 26-inch wheels, 36-spoke aluminium rims and a quick-release axle.
‘A US team would pay around £3000 to equip an athlete, but if you’re from, say Kenya and using an orthopedic chair, that might not be possible,’ Constantine says.
Chris Holmes, director of Paralympic integration at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, says that it is up to the national governing bodies of individual sports to nurture equipment design. He says, ‘A lot of the responsibility falls with national bodies responsible for bringing their athletes to the games – it’s not the responsibility of the organising committee.’
Holmes adds that Locog has overseen ‘a fully integrated design approach from the outset’. Stadiums can be adapted in the transitions between games, while wheelchair-users and the visually impaired will sit with other crowd members for both competitions. ‘They won’t need separate areas,’ Holmes says.
Olympic and Paralympic progress
• The Olympic Stadium, designed by Populous, now has its roof terracing and roof supports in place
• The structure of the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre roof is complete
• The first Olympic Park building, the Primary Electrical Substation designed by EDF Energy, has been completed

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