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Designability is a unique charity that harnesses technical expertise, research and knowledge to enhance people’s lives. We hear from their Commercial and Fundraising Manager, Alexandra Leach, about what they do

Designability is a group of experienced and dedicated engineers, therapists, design experts, fundraisers and support staff who share a passion for creating life-changing assistive technologies.

We advocate better technology for everyone and believe inclusive design is the only way forward. We work with end-users, carers and health professionals to help us understand the problem, find a solution and test it in real life situations.

Our history

Designability was established in 1968 as an independent charity by famous inventor and engineer, Bevan Horstmann, and local consultant surgeon, Kenneth Lloyd-Williams – they wanted to create medical equipment that would really make a difference to people’s lives.

The pair embarked on a mission to create a platform for engineers and clinicians to design and develop medical equipment. Our first President was Sir Barnes Wallis, who was an engineer and inventor, most famous for developing the “bouncing bombs” used by 617 Squadron (“The Dam Busters”) to breach the Möhne and Eder dams in Germany in 1943.

Sir Barnes WallisWe were first situated at St Martin’s Hospital in Bath, but in 1987 we moved to our current offices at the Royal United Hospital (RUH) in Bath, where we’ve been ever since.

In the early noughties our Director, Roger Orpwood started to become interested in developing technologies to help those living with dementia. He adopted a user-centred design process which was quite revolutionary at the time and this approach, working closely with real people and their families, is still fundamental to our method of working today.

We’re recognised as a centre of excellence within the assistive technology field, hold a national reputation for user-led design work on children’s mobility and dementia products.

Designability’s Wizzybug wheelchair

The difference we make

We start with research. It helps us understand the needs of users, opens up new technologies and leads to the development of new products. We collaborate with a range of charities to help as many people as we can. We also work with universities and colleges to train and inspire the next generation of engineers, designers and therapists, to develop new enabling technologies and products for people with health problems and disabilities.

Our products

Products such as the Day Clock and One Button Radio came out of user engagement and a recognition of an unmet need. The Simple Music player and Blys Night Tray were the product of formal research projects. The sale of these products generates income for us and our partners and provides benefit and a better quality of life to many thousands of people in the UK and abroad.

Simple music playerWe believe that Designability’s unique combination of research, advocacy, product development and charitable work enables us to use the strengths of each to enhance the whole, which benefits all those we work with and for. We could not do this without the dedication and hard work of our staff team, volunteers and supporters.

How we are funded

Designability are funded by three main income streams:
• Charitable donations – we receive donations from charitable trusts, corporate organisations and individuals.
• Research grants – we receive research grants from government-funded Research Councils.
• Commercial income – product sales, royalties and consultancy services.

The purchase of products that were originally designed by Designability contributes to the funding of our work to research and create more products. This income stream is very useful, however it in no way covers all our costs and we do still desperately need the generous donations we receive from our supporters.

Our partnership with Unforgettable

Designability has been in contact with James Ashwell for some time and we have been impressed by his mission to provide a valuable resource for those living with dementia and their families and carers. We know there are many people who will benefit enormously from simple products and technologies. Often, they just do not know that products are available, or if they are aware, are uncertain which one to choose. It is great to see that Unforgettable are addressing this problem by bringing all the best products together in one place. We are flattered to have been chosen as one of their Charity Partners.

Over the last 46 years we have completed over 300 projects and supplied products to over 250,000 people. We believe that we are engineering a better quality of life for those we support.