Awards for inventions that make life with disability easier


Handicap International has given awards to two teams of Flemish students and the dad of a disabled girl for their inventions that will ease everyday life for people with disabilities

Rising to the challenge

Each year the Belgian branch of Handicap International organises the Design with a Heart competition to reward inventions that improve everyday life for the disabled and the elderly. A jury of experts from the health and disability sector has this year chosen four winning projects out of a record number of 43 submissions.

“For elderly people or those with disabilities, simple actions like picking something up or getting dressed are often not straightforward,” Handicap International spokesperson Hanna Plas told Het Nieuwsblad. “There are a lot of tools on the market, but these are usually expensive or not adjusted to specific needs.”

Two of the four winning projects this year were the result of a co-operation between students in industrial design at Ghent University and ergotherapy at West Flanders University College (HoWest).

HoWest students designed the ZipAid with 40-year-old Fabien from Kortrijk in mind. Fabien is paralysed on the left side of his body because of a brain haemorrhage. “One of his major difficulties was that he couldn’t close a zip with one hand and always had to rely on others to do this for him,” Steffi Mussly, one of the winning students from HoWest, told Het Laatste Nieuws

Improved independence

The existing aids for zips can only be used while sitting down, which makes them unsuitable in many situations. So the students came up with the ZipAid, a device with magnets that enables users to close a zip with one hand or even with the mouth, while sitting or standing.

“Not only does this product allow the user to be more independent, it simplifies and speeds up the action, which eliminates a lot of frustration,” the Handicap International report said.

The thinking process took a few weeks but the construction only one day

- Inventor Jos Weckx

The Eclips light switch, meanwhile, was invented by Ghent students to help Julie Leurs from Menen in West Flanders. Leurs, a wheelchair user, is helped by an assistance dog in her daily life, but one of her problems was that neither she nor her dog could switch off the light in her bedroom because it is installed so high up. “Every night, she had to ask someone to turn off the light,” student Lotte Boury told Het Laatste Nieuws.

The students solved this challenge by installing a pull switch that enables the dog to turn off the light by pulling on a rope. “However, we had to avoid the system breaking if the dog pulled too hard,” said Boury. The students developed a little box with a hole for the rope to run through and tied a knot in the rope, thus solving this problem.

Meeting a need

The third winner was Jos Weckx from Leefdaal, Flemish Brabant, who designed a walking frame for his three-year-old daughter, Mona (pictured above). Mona was born two months premature and suffers from balance problems because of cerebral palsy.

“Mona had a walking frame from the hospital, but it didn’t help her much at home,” Weckx told Het Laatste Nieuws. “The device was much too big and didn’t have swivelling wheels, which made it hard for her to move around and caused her to bump into things a lot.”

After studying the hospital model, Weckx – who is a physical therapist but doesn’t have special technical knowhow – built a new walking frame with material he found around his house. “I adapted everything to Mona’s size and also included a little basket so she can carry stuff,” he explained. “The thinking process for the concept took me a few weeks and the construction only one day.”

The fourth winner was Valérie Dardenne from Pont-de-Loup in the Walloon province of Hainaut. She has a genetic disease that makes her less mobile. She had a basket on her walking frame that she didn’t like because it was rigid and couldn’t close. She turned an old pair of jeans into a user-friendly bag that she can attach to her walking frame – a cheap solution to her problem.

Photo. A Bertels