UWTSD graduate Keira Gwynn helps a little girl to smile again by designing a specialist chair with Denmark-based Company R82, which allows her to play alongside her siblings and friends
UWTSD graduate Keira Gwynn has helped put a smile on a little girl’s face in time for Christmas by creating a specialist chair that allows Evie to sit, play and eat alongside her family and school friends. Evie Hopkins was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia at just four months old. It affects her right side and she is unable to sit independently without tipping over; which affects her confidence and causes the now 7-year-old anxiety.
UWTSD graduate Keira Gwynn has helped put a smile on a little girl’s face in time for Christmas by creating a specialist chair that allows Evie to sit, play and eat alongside her family and school friends.
Evie Hopkins was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia at just four months old. It affects her right side and she is unable to sit independently without tipping over; which affects her confidence and causes the now 7-year-old anxiety.
It has meant she has missed out on family meal and play times with her brothers and sisters, trips to the beach and school friends’ birthday parties.
But thanks to a product, called the Scallop, a specialist chair, which was designed and developed with specialist supplier R82 by Keira, a graduate of the Product Design BA and MA at UWTSD, Evie can now happily play alongside her siblings and peers.
R82, is based in Denmark and produces specialist high quality aids designed for children and teenagers with disabilities all over the world.
Evie’s Mum, Karen Hopkins said: “Evie has made great strides when you consider her starting point – her prognosis was that she would be unable to walk, would have to communicate through a computerised aid and fed through a tube. Evie has achieved many of these feats; yet sitting independently has yet to be accomplished.
“Evie’s communication skills are well developed and she desperately wants to take part in everything around her. Evie has not been able to take part in many activities that are important to her, such as playing board and computer games with her brothers and sisters. Going out for meals has been an issue too as it has involved Evie sitting on the end of a table due to limited room for manoeuvring her wheelchair.”
Mrs Hopkins said that although the family lives close to many beautiful beaches and they enjoy water sports and beach activities, they hadn’t visited it as much. “This was because it was a bit boring for Evie since most of the time an adult had to prop her between their legs,” she added. “It meant we couldn’t play with Evie to the degree that would be beneficial to her – building sandcastles, digging etc. The alternatives we have previously tried, such as sitting Evie on a child’s beach chair have resulted in Evie toppling over when she reaches to do something.”
Mrs Hopkins said the introduction of the Scallop has been life changing for Evie. “She is now able to actively participate in many activities which weren’t previously possible. She sits in the Scallop on a normal chair at the table and plays a variety of games with her brothers and sisters. It’s so lovely to see her finally doing that,” she said.
Mrs Hopkins said Evie especially loves playing computer games with her brothers and for the first time ever, she now sits on the floor with confidence. “Evie is able to concentrate on what she is doing rather than worrying and panicking about whether she is able to maintain position,” she added.
Evie has also been able to use the Scallop in school and it is particularly useful during circle time and music. “Previously, Evie would be sitting in her wheelchair or specialist seat (which looks like a baby’s highchair) and would be on a higher level than her friends, who would sit on the carpet,” said her mum. “Now Evie is sat on the floor with alongside them all, playing instruments and talking, which makes her feel fully included. The school has reported that Evie “Is more engaged”.
The chair has also come into its own at birthday parties. “Evie is a popular child in her class and is invited to all birthday parties,” said her mum. “Previously I have had to vet the venues for access and particularly the seating arrangements. Whether Evie is able to attend the party or not, was based on my findings. Recently, Evie was invited to two birthday parties, one at the cinema and one more traditional, at her friend’s home. Evie used the Scallop in both. The more limited room in her friend’s house was not an issue (previously, Evie wouldn’t have attended) since she sat at the table with her friends in her Scallop. And it was the same successful outcome at the cinema.”
Mrs Hopkins said the Scallop has been particularly useful when the family eats out. “It is so lightweight that it is very portable and easy to take. In restaurants, Evie’s wheelchair is too low for her to access the table, cutlery, or even food appropriately. The Scallop resolves this issue since Evie is able to sit in the Scallop in a normal chair, where she is at the correct height to eat,” she said.
Finally, Evie’s family said that taking Evie to the beach was now ‘an absolute pleasure.’ “I feel it is purposeful for her now. She is able to sit in the Scallop and we can sit in front of her, interacting as we’ve always wanted to, in the way in which we have been able to do with our other children – building sandcastles, knocking them down with pebbles, digging etc. It is an easy trip now since we don’t need to concentrate on supporting Evie in sitting.”
So what does Evie think of her new chair? Evie reports that she “likes sitting up on her own!’, ‘because I can do it myself and don’t need you to do it for me!”
And Evie says her favourite thing about the Scallop is “sitting on the floor playing Fifa with Joseph and Ethan”, adding that she likes taking the Scallop to school because she can sit close to her friends.
Evie’s mum added: “It’s the seemingly small things that make life easier for disabled children and their families. I think the Scallop fits into this category. It’s not expensive, it is lightweight and portable; meeting its targeted need excellently. We will definitely be taking it on holiday with us next year!”
As a result of the project, Keira now has a full time job with R82 in Denmark as a Creative Graphics/Product Designer.
Keira said: “The Scallop project developed from seeing a real life problem in a common family situation. I worked closely with the family throughout the developing stages of the project at UWTSD observing and analysing what problems needed to be overcome within this project. Once I had gathered a lot of research and gained the understanding of what I wanted the product to achieve, I started making a lot of cardboard, paper and plastic sketch models, close to a hundred I think, all different shapes and sizes. I used this method as it was important for me to feel and understand the shape of the product, it allowed me to make very fast decisions in weather the shape provided the correct support or not.”
Keira said studying product design at UWTSD had taught her to gather research, analyse and use it creatively to solve real life problems. “These skills enabled me to create a product that not only solved a problem for one particular family’s needs but many,” she added. “I created an inclusive product that could be used by a variety of users from children with special needs to adults who just need a comfortable floor sitter. The project caught the attention of a company called R82 and before I knew it I was developing the project further during my MA degree at UWTSD in connection with R82.”
Keira was accepted for an internship at R82’s R&D department in Denmark for 6 months, but it turned into a year, and saw her develop the product from concept into reality. “I visited many families and institutions while developing the product, it was incredible and so heart-warming to see a product that I had designed impact a child’s life in such a positive way,” she said.
UWTSD’s Dr Sean Jenkins, Head of Design & Applied Arts at Swansea College of Art said: “Keira joined our Product Design programme in 2011 after first thinking about a career in nursing – even at that early stage she was enthusiastic about the creative opportunity the programme offered her to design for others less able than herself. Over the duration of the course she developed a real passion for inclusive design. While volunteering at a design workshop for kids in the Waterfront Museum in Swansea, Keira met a young boy with a physical disability who struggled to sit upright in everyday chairs without support. This triggered the start of a year-long project to design a portable seat which was spotted by R82 at her graduate exhibition and has since led to bigger and better things! Kiera worked hard in collaboration with design staff at Swansea College of Art and R82 to evolve the design throughout her master’s degree studies and an internship at R82 into the SCALLOP, which was successfully launched in September 2016 to great acclaim. Keira’s fantastic achievement has already left a positive mark on children and families using the product and seeing Evie using SCALLOP with her family is an exceptionally humbling experience which has inspired our next generation of product designers here at UWTSD Swansea College of Art.”
R82´s Rasmus Theilmann, Head of R&D said: “Our Sales Director in the UK, first met Keira at her graduate exhibition after seeing the Scallop on Linkedin, which sparked an interest within R82 immediately. Keira continued to work on the project for her MA degree in connection with R82, which provided evidence that there was a large market for this product.
In 2015 Keira and R82 entered into a partnership which enabled her a 6 month internship in Denmark to finalise the design. During that period, Keira visited many institutions and met with families along with our physiotherapist while developing the product. Keira’s internship was extended, so she could continue adding to the great story of the Scallop and the marketing material that went along with it, also enabling her to participate in other projects within R&D and marketing.
The Scallop was launched in September 2016, appearing in the RehaCare exhibition in Germany within the same month. The feedback from the market has been excellent. Families, therapists, institutions and most importantly the children have all taken a high interest in the Scallop.
Having seen Keira´s dedication to the Scallop project and her cooperation with the rest of the R82 project team, to transform the concept into a product ready for serial production and market launch, we decided to offer Keira a full-time position at R82 in Denmark within the R&D and Marketing department.”