Research could see disabled people become ‘3-D pioneers’


newslatestNew research funding could see disabled people become pioneers in a “new industrial revolution”, according to a user-led organisation.

The funding has been secured by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), the University of Salford and the University of Dundee, for a project that will support disabled people to develop new uses for three-dimensional printers.

They hope that their project, In The Making, could produce new commercial, social and creative uses for so-called “digital fabrication”.

As part of the scheme – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through its Connected Communities programme – researchers will take mobile equipment into community venues, where they will help disabled people to use the technology and discover whether it can help improve their lives and those of their families and communities.

DR UK said the project would “explore how people can become ‘makers’ of solutions rather than merely recipients of ‘help’, re-casting themselves as digital entrepreneurs who overcome barriers through their own creativity”.

The first phase of the project will begin in January 2015, and from June 2015 it will work with people in and around Manchester, bringing equipment into “community centres, shops, and more unexpected venues such as care homes”, and supporting disabled users to make “useful and inspirational creations”.

The final stage will see researchers and community groups present their results at an exhibition at the University of Salford.

Philip Connolly, DR UK’s policy and communications manager, said: “Already some disabled people are printing their own customised prosthetic limbs or ramps.

“Disability Rights UK, through this partnership, hopes to ensure that in this new industrial revolution that our society is currently going through, disabled people are not left behind but can lead that revolution too.”

Connolly will take the role of community co-investigator, a new category of researcher being piloted by AHRC to help secure improved access to expertise outside traditional academia.

Dr Ursula Hurley, senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Salford, who specialises in researching creative processes, and is the project’s principal investigator, said: “The focus of our investigation is to explore whether digital fabrication can be of use to those with lived experience of disability, not just practically (ie making assistive aids) but also in creative, political and economic terms.

“We aim to initiate a conversation between the arts, disability studies and human computer interaction, with a focus on pathways to social benefits.”

21 August 2014