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Engineering more fun

Following on from yesterday’s blog explaining the ways in which disabled people will be affected by the reforms, I thought I would write on a more cheerful note about some of the great work being done by charities in the sector.

A few weeks ago I visited Meru, a member of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation family of charities. Meru is, unusually, an engineering charity; it designs and manufactures specialist equipment for disabled children with complex conditions to enable them to go about their daily lives. For instance, we were shown the prototypes of a bath support system to enable a disabled child to take a bath safely. We also saw a system to allow a keen pianist, who had loss the use of her legs, to continue to be able to press the pedals of her piano by a box operated by tilting glasses. The staff at the charity went to extraordinary lengths to make sure each design was right for every individual child, and they don’t rest until they have it sorted. Sometimes this is straightforward; sometimes it involves engineers running in saying ‘I had an eureka moment in the shower’. For one design, the whole office chewed silicone to find the type that had the best taste to put on an adaption that would be mouth-operated. Each design is sold to the family for a token price.

Meru has also started to manufacture and sell standard products that it gets asked for repeatedly. This includes a wheelchair for children aged 1-5;  a new travel seat for aircraft; and a gadget to help use zips. As Meru is pretty much entirely funded by voluntary funding, it would like its standard products to help subsidise the much more expensive bespoke work. It gets great support from local businesses which give it materials for free, and engineers who volunteer and make some of the lower risk products.

As well as this, they can even demonstrate the impact of their work. At the start of each  project, Meru identifies what outcome this equipment will help the person achieve—eg, feeling healthy, having fun, feeling liberated. Three months after delivery, the customer is called up and the result of the work is discussed. All of this is published in their annual impact report—even the cases where it didn’t work.

Last year, Meru helped around 1500 children and young people with disabilities to participate more fully in society. The impact it has on these young people shows the value of charities working in this field.