Oxford apprentices in Paralympian Challenge

2 mins read

Apprentices at leading engineering training centre Oxfordshire Advanced Skills, based at the UK Atomic Energy Authority's Culham Campus, have come up with innovative design concepts to help people with disabilities in the final of the Emma Wiggs Challenge 2024.

Double paralympic champion Emma Wiggs MBE, who launched the competition for a second time following the success of last year’s event, was one of the judges assessing the entries which showcased how design engineering can be used to improve life for people with disabilities.

Since her mobility was impaired overnight by a virus at the age of 18, Emma has dedicated herself to paralympic sport, inspiring others with her determination and positive mindset. Currently in training for the 2024 Paralympics in Paris, she has become a trailblazer for paracanoeing in the UK. Her impressive track record includes gold medals at both the Rio and Tokyo Paralympics.

Emma had previously tasked the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), which provides training for the Oxfordshire site, to design a bespoke canoe paddle with which she achieved gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Through the Emma Wiggs Challenge, a competition designed in partnership with MTC Training and OAS, learners have been creating design solutions around everyday tasks which someone with a disability might find challenging.

The apprentices worked on their design concepts individually or in small teams, supported by virtual workshops with Emma who was on hand to answer questions, allowing them to refine their designs.

The winning entry was Sense-Aid designed by Sophie Walters. Inspired by her own personal experience with autism, and others in the autistic community, the new product aims to help autistic adults find comfort and grounding in times of stress. The wrist band, which is produced from different fabrics, and refined using research, community surveys, and CAD, is designed to support and empower autistic adults with a practical, portable product in a market which offers primarily child-centred solutions.

The runner-up project was Brush designed by the team of Thomas Potts, Luke Scofield and Owen Green. The team identified a universal problem for wheelchair users; that of dirt building up on tyres and the challenge of cleaning them before going into a building. Brush is an easy-to-clip-on unit which cleans as it goes and is 3D printed using PLA (polylactic acid) and flexible TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). The brush is replaceable and can be easily detached for use as a standard manual brush.

The highly commended finalist was The Braille Knife designed by Marian Bumbar. The inspiration for Marian’s project came from imagining the daunting task of selecting the right knife in the kitchen, without the sense of sight. Apart from the obvious safety considerations, this also involves gauging texture and functionality through other senses. Marian’s solution is the Braille Knife. Made with strong, lightweight titanium blades which feature Braille language engraved directly onto the handle, the design empowers those with impaired vision confidently to select the appropriate utensil.

Emma Wiggs said: “It’s been a privilege to come back to OAS and work with the first-year apprentices on the second Emma Wiggs Challenge. Once again, I have been absolutely blown away by the unique solutions that the finalists have produced.

"As I train for my own next challenge of qualifying and competing at the Paralympics in Paris, I’ve been delighted to work with and advise the apprentices on their projects and have been truly inspired by the way they have approached the task, including their research to understand and identify some of the challenges affecting people with all types of disabilities.

"The way they have then been able to apply all their newly found engineering skills, to come up with these fantastic, innovative solutions makes me very proud of all their collective efforts and the support of all the staff and trainers at OAS.”

Emma Johnstone, head of finance and operations at OAS, said, “I couldn’t be more proud of the way in which our first-year apprentices have embraced the challenge. It’s been so rewarding to see how they have been inspired by working with Emma Wiggs to create these concepts to help improve daily life for people with disabilities. I’d like to thank the MTC Training engineering trainers who have mentored the competitors as they have tackled the challenge of progressing their original ideas into workable, presentable designs.”