Language is a powerful tool. It can empower people and it can dis-empower them.
In the world of disability, there are so many pieces of language that we could look at and argue both for and against use of words and terminology. That discussion is for another blog.
In this blog, I’m going to talk a bit about innovation. My understanding of the word, what I see the word mean to others and an exciting opportunity that has come up for me to explore that word a bit more.
Since I set up my social enterprise, a lot of the terminology that I used to use has changed. This is a result of needing to connect with different audiences and better communicate a message with them.
Words that I hadn’t used that often before, lived experience, user led, innovation, now regularly come up in conversations and pieces that I write.
These words hold different meaning to different people and are dependent on the context that they are talked about in.
I’ve always understood innovation to mean brining in something new, an idea of some sort. So it could be a new product or it could be a new way of working.
That’s why when setting up The Wheelchair Skills College, I saw it as innovative. There’s nothing and no one out there now that is making sure that every person receives wheelchair skills training if they need it. Designing something that would meet that need is an innovation.
How exclusive is innovation?
Although wheelchair skills are about lifestyle, many of the benefits that you get are health related. That’s why when I set up, I started exploring how I could work in the healthcare setting. There is so much talk of coproduction and innovation that I thought I’d found a way to get wheelchair skills out to the masses.
How those things look in real life are very different to how they are talked about.
The focus on investment for innovation in the health setting seems to be geared toward financial return on investment, the money that investors are going to get back from selling a products to the NHS or Trusts.
What about those things that won’t bring in money, but will save it?
The NHS really is geared toward acute care and preventative services always seem to come across as an afterthought or at least a much lower priority. While preventative services offer huge improvement to lifestyle and massive social return on investment that will lead to savings for the healthcare system.
People don’t have access to innovation and that’s a problem. Why? Because there are so many amazing ideas out there that aren’t currently being shared. Ideas that could potentially have huge impacts on so many people.
There’s a lot that we need to do to find people with these ideas and take them from a concept to a scalable, impactful solution. Designing a pathway giving people access to resources, both financial and non-financial, would be an amazing place to end up.
That’s the end goal. But where do we start?
I’d like to suggest that we start by changing the way we talk about innovation. In changing how people talk and understand it, we remove some of the barriers to being innovative and open the door to more innovators and their ideas.
Innovation is about ideas. Ideas for change. They can be big; national, global. Or they can be small. Something that makes a difference for you and the things that you do everyday.
Let’s talk about innovation being micro, meso and macro. Innovation of any size making innovation more accessible.
Collaborating with the Global Disability Innovataion Hub
Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. Last month I started working on a project with a piece of technology that I haven’t had the opportunity to use before.
I’ve been collaborating with the Global Disability Innovation Hub (part of UCL) to map out the movement involved in wheelchair skills and apply that to a virtual exo-skeleton.
It is a really awesome project to be working on. When we have mapped out movements of wheelchair skills, it gives us an opportunity to develop more tailored and remote wheelchair skills meaning that we can reach more people than ever before!
My research fellowship for innovation
I really want to see innovation become more accessible for more people and want to find out how to make that happen.
Last year I started the application process for a Churchill Fellowship, something that I really didn’t think I had a shot at getting. But like most things, I had a why not attitude about it.
Imagine my elation when in early June I found out that I’d been successful with my application to research “Innovation through lived experience of disability”.
My Fellowship will take me to Australia and New Zealand early next year to explore the work they are doing there and bring back some ideas to create a pathway for other disabled innovators to build their ideas.
Become an innovator!
So how can you become an innovator? I don’t have all the answers yet, but there are a few places that you can start looking.
If you are working on a social cause and would like to find out more about differently solutions that are worked on globally then check out the Churchill Fellowship – application open in September!
If you’re looking to start more local, there isn’t one place to start either. A quick Google of your area name and phrase like “community fund” will start giving you a few places to look. It’s a deep rabbit hole, but if you’ve got an idea that can make change, it’s certainly worth diving in.