Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading tech for good funder, has named Disrupt Disability in the 2016 NT100 - a global celebration of this year’s 100 most inspiring social innovations using digital technology to drive social change around the world. 

NT100 plays a valuable role each year in inspiring those with the influence and resources to accelerate the adoption of tech for social good. It brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, NGOs, charities, technologists and others to share knowledge, experience and skills to introduce social change on a global scale. 

Following a global call for nominations earlier this year, Disrupt Disability was selected by a judging panel of tech and charity experts in recognition of its work. Disrupt Disability are applying digital fabrication and distributed manufacturing (for example, manufacturing in makerspaces) to wheelchairs, giving wheelchair users choice and control over the form and function of their wheels. 

This year the NT100 gives special recognition to Everyday Tech Heroes - the inspirational people who have first-hand experience of the challenges they are tackling with Tech. We are proud to announce that Disrupt Disability Founder and Director Rachael Wallach has received this year’s Everyday Tech Hero award in recognition of her work.

Rachael was inspired to found Disrupt Disability following her experience backpacking across South East Asia; 

When I was travelling I realised I had hardly seen any other wheelchair users, and no one else was wheeling themselves. An estimated 65m people in the world need a wheelchair. So I started to connect with NGOs on my route to find out why.

They told me that a wheelchair is like a pair of shoes; to give independence it needs to be customised to the body, lifestyle and environment of its user. My wheelchair has over 30 different elements that have been tailored to me.

With traditional design, manufacturing and distribution, customisation comes at a prohibitive price. My wheelchair has been fully customised to my needs but costs $3,000. In a country like Laos, that’s 6 times the average annual salary, so it’s just not affordable. According to the World Health Organisation, there are 52m people worldwide who need a wheelchair but simply cannot afford one.

Inspired by organisations like e-NABLE who have used open source design, digital fabrication and distributed manufacture to reduce the cost of prosthetic hands from $10,000 to $50, I started to run hackathons to explore whether these same techniques could be applied to wheelchairs.

It quickly became clear that even wheelchair users can afford a customised wheelchair, they don’t have the level of choice and control they want over their chair.

Unlike a bike, wheelchair parts are not interchangeable (you can’t buy your frame and footplate from different manufacturers and you can’t swap in a more stable caster fork when you go out on uneven terrain). Unlike glasses, the only thing you can really change about your chair is the colour. Existing manufacturers don’t have much of an incentive to change things.

Our hackathons taught us that the wheelchair market isn’t working for anyone. We co-designed the Disrupt Disability approach with wheelchair users, designers and makers to transform the way that customised wheelchairs are designed, distributed and made.

Disrupt Disability has two aims. First, to reduce the cost of customised wheelchairs so all 65 million people who need a wheelchair can afford one. Secondly, to give wheelchair users as much choice and control over their wheelchair as they would have over a pair of glasses, so people don't use a wheelchair, they wear their wheels. 

The 2016 NT100 was selected from 700 projects discovered this year through a combination of research and public nomination. Shortlisted projects were reviewed by Nominet Trust and a panel of partner organisations including: Big Lottery Fund, Cancer Research UK, Comic Relief, Nominet, Oxfam, Telefonica 02 and Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. 

The 2016 NT100 projects are hosted on the Social Tech Guide (http://socialtech.org.uk/nominet-trust-100/2016), the world’s largest interactive database of tech for good, which now showcases almost 1,700 ventures. 

About Nominet Trust

Nominet Trust is the UK’s leading social tech funder.  It provides full grant funding, mentoring and business support to organisations using the internet and digital technology to address significant social challenges including health and well-being, economic empowerment and sustainability.  Since 2009,  Nominet Trust has invested more than£25m in projects harnessing technology to deliver real social change. Through partnerships and campaigns such as the inspirational NT100, Nominet Trust mobilises new approaches that will influence and accelerate the use of tech for social good. 

For more information about the Trust, please visit: www.nominettrust.org.uk