Teaching design to people with spinal injuries

The Royal Society of Arts says its Design & Rehabilitation initiative, which saw people with spinal injuries taught design principles, has allowed some participants to feel more positive and resourceful.

Resources provided by staff at Stoke Mandeville
Resources provided by staff at Stoke Mandeville

The RSA last year ran a series of programmes at Stoke Mandeville hospital, Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and Sheffield Northern General Hospital.

Teams from Bucks New University, Glasgow School of Art and Strathclyde University and Sheffield Hallam went into the hospitals to teach design principles using techniques such as moodboards and role-playing.

The aim, according to former RSA director of design Emily Campbell, was that ‘people who are not professional designers might acquire some capacity to design for themselves.’

The front cover of the RSA's report
Developing prototypes with Bucks New University

The RSA says another aim was to develop other routes to social integration beyond sport, which has been emphasised ‘almost to the exclusion of other activities’.

The participating hospitals also noted potential advantages such as giving patients the skills to design their own environments and gadgets.

One participant at Sheffield Hallam’s programme said, ‘Now I can see problems that need addressing’, while Sheffield registrar James White said, ‘We concentrate so much on the acute phase of the injury that we pay less attention to what happens when things have settled down.’

Sheffield Hallam University workshop
Sheffield Hallam University workshop

Stoke Mandeville patients said the design sessions had brought out their confidence and ability to adapt, making them aware of ‘more options’, ‘not necessarily accepting what I’ve got’.

Chris Haynes, who participated in the Stoke Mandeville workshops, said that while his ability to design and make things outside of the hospital was limited, design had helped him to recognise the problem he was trying to solve.

‘If I know what the problems are, and I can look on the internet and find things, then it is sort of designing.’

The front cover of the RSA's report
Materials from Bucks New University workshop

Commenting on the differences between design training with occupational therapy, Manuela Schuette, of the British Association and College of Occupational Therapists, says the design approach is ‘actually stepping back, thinking about an entire concept and working intensively to produce an outcome, with quick results.’

The design and medical teams at Sheffield say they are keen to develop further workshops, possibly focusing on specific problems, while Brian Carlin, chief executive of spinal-cord injury charity Aspire, suggested launching a national design-training project for patients who have been discharged from hospital.

The front cover of the RSA's report
The front cover of the RSA’s report

You can read the RSA’s Design & Rehabilitation report in full here.

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  • Louise Christie November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    what a fantastic initiative

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