Teaching design skills to people with spinal cord injuries can help them recognise how to confront and solve some of the problems they come across in their daily lives, according to a report published by the RSA.
Working in partnership with Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, Glasgow's Southern General Hospital and Sheffield Northern General Hospital, the RSA found that design skills 'brought out a patient's confidence and their ability to adapt, making them aware of their options and not necessarily accepting what they've got'.
Over the last year, the RSA worked with teams from Bucks New University, Glasgow School of Art and Strathclyde University and Sheffield Hallam to teach patients design principles using techniques such as moodboards and role-playing.
The 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.
The workshops helped patients think about their daily experience in an empowering and constructive way, personalising or customising their own care and equipment, and 'took participants away from thinking about their medical complications to thinking about their future.
Commenting on the programme, Emily Campbell, Project Director and former RSA Director of Design said:
"Beyond the practical teaching methods it tested, the significance of the project is that it took design beyond its associated traditional and formal terms of reference. Of necessity, it found other ways to define design; ways to explain or 'sell' design as rehabilitative, therapeutic or constructive to the people concerned. During the workshops, design was often taught as a mental process as opposed to a set of technical skills for the manipulation of form".
The design and medical teams at Sheffield and Glasgow 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.