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People suffering from spinal cord injuries could benefit from design training, according to leading designers Sir John Sorrell and Richard Seymour. As part of a new pilot organised by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), designers will examine whether the creative, problem-solving skills used in design might help disabled people become more independent – and in the long run – assist in their return to work.

The project, Design & Rehabilitation, launched this week, will involve a series of inspirational design presentations and workshops for patients facing discharge from the eleven UK/Eire specialist spinal injury centres - beginning at Stoke Mandeville and RNOH Stanmore.

The project aims to prove that design as a discipline, or thought process, can address the dramatic loss of confidence and diminished motivation that results from a sudden physical impairment.  

Spinal cord injured people are relatively well served with opportunities to engage in sport and physical activity, but programmes which convene them to share knowledge and experience of technical or professional issues are more scare.

The purpose of providing introductory design training is to give confidence and comfort to patients facing a life in which independence may be an extreme challenge, and by extension, for their families and carers. Many who have survived a devastating injury will have come to realise, out of necessity, the greatest design lesson of all: that you can change yourself. The object of this project is to extend this hope to many more by showing how design can increase your confidence and will to adapt.

Speaking about the project, Emily Campbell said:  

"People trained in design are practised in solving problems and they have methods and tools and tips that everyone can use. The RSA believes that these methods and tools and tips can help to rebuild confidence after severe and life-changing injury." 

Supporters of the project include David Constantine MBE, founder of the charity Movitation, who trained as a designer after injuring his spinal cord in his 20s.  

Founder of Motivation, David Constantine said:

"This project is important. Spinal cord injury is life-changing and requires creativity – you need to adapt the lessons you learn in rehabilitation to your own purposes. People will really benefit from training in creative processes by which they can supplement the provision of equipment and services."

Designer, Sir John Sorrell said:   

"Fundamentally, design is deciding what something is like and how it will work. The RSA stands to learn a lot about how to spread an understanding of design by working with this group."

Royal Designer Julian Brown, who suffered cognitive and physical impairment from large brain haemorrhage in 2006, said:   

"Many who have survived a devastating injury will have come to realise, out of necessity, the greatest design lesson of all: that you can change yourself."

The proposal has been welcomed by clinical specialists in rehabilitation as well as the major spinal injury charities. Other designers lined up for these sessions include Michael Marriott, Pascal Anson, Ben Wilson, Design Council deputy David Godber and Royal Designers Nick Butler, Terence Woodgate, Peter Higgins and Tom Lloyd.

The project has been conceived by the RSA's Director of Design, Emily Campbell, who last year published a new account of design for the 250-year old society, arguing that design’s untapped potential today was to make people more resourceful and self-reliant. The RSA’s intention is now to develop a new model of design training, focused on self-reliance and resourcefulness, with potential for widespread replication among other groups of people whose independence, self-realisation and social participation are challenged. 

Find out more about Design & Rehabilitation


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