Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 44 seconds
Everyone has a story. Could you help a dog-lover play ball with her disability dog? Or figure out a way for aÂ paralysed rugby player to get his sports wheelchair back into the car? Or devise a clever device that could change the life of someone who uses a wheelchair? Thatâs the mission set in a new student design competition, Getting Back on Track, which Islington-based solicitor Raquel Siganporia has just launched. Interview by Nicola Baird.
Over a mug of tea in the client meeting area of Providence House, Raquel Siganporia talks about the new student design competition thatâs just been launched by Bolt Burdon Kemp to encourage innovation. Itâs a great idea â with a tempting ÂŁ3,000 prize. And this is only one of the ideas sheâs had that helps people better understand the day-to-day challenges faced by people with spinal cord injuries.
âI can get as much compensation as is needed if they have become paralysed through medical negligence or personal injury and have huge care and accommodation needs, but I canât make their high street accessible or even compliant with the Equality Act!â says Raquel, who is Head of Spinal Injury and a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp, which opened in the borough 30 years ago on Theberton Street.
>FOLLOW ISLINGTON FACESÂ by email: aÂ new interview isÂ publishedÂ everyÂ week.
Raquel is such a live wire: extremely articulate, friendly and very successful in her career. Sheâs also been a wheelchair user after becoming paralysed, aged 11, in an operation that went wrong. âThen there was no Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and no Equality Act (2010). I didnât see many people out and about, presumably because they found it difficult to access the community,â she says. âThereâs been a huge change over the past 25 years.â
âI certainly feel a positive member of society and do everything youâd expect a 36-year-old woman to do â the fact that I have a spinal cord injury is incidental, rather than the determining factor,â she says chatting about places she loves to go in Islington, mishaps in her Holloway flat (such as the challenge of clearing up a broken bottle of olive oil) and her love of long-distance travel.
Everything seems positive until she comes out with a staggering fact.
âIslington High Street is one of the worst high streets in England and Wales for wheelchair access. I find it astonishing that it is still seen as acceptable to not have a ramp. I use a wheelchair 24:7 and the only thing that disables me is the social environment that Iâm in. I could do a lot more if I wasnât constantly battling steps and the lack of disabled access bathrooms. If youâre running a business itâs a smart move to cater for the widest variety of people that you can attract,â she says explaining that businesses duck their responsibilities (and an upfront cost) by citing planning permission and their legal rights.
Rules and regulations might make your eyes glaze over, but for Raquel it means she canât go into many Upper Street businesses. âI do really like Ottolenghi, 287 Upper Street, but it still doesnât have a disabled toilet. So, I if I eat there I have to leave and go to another restaurant (opposite the Almeida Theatre) to go to the bathroom,â she explains.
But Raquelâs a realist too, adding: âWhy would you know what someone in a wheelchair needs? So, if you see a customer who uses a wheelchair ask them, or ask what could you do to make things better? Youâll get feedback! People will not be held back by their life-changing injuries.â
In April 2016, Raquel organised for a team of barristers to spend a couple of hours in a wheelchair on Upper Street to see what it feels like. She coined it a “Wheelchair Awareness Day”. Their mission was to go into an estate agent, shop, restaurant, find a toilet and try a bus journey. They soon found that navigating Islington wasnât simple: doors were too narrow, steps looked like mountain ranges, it was hard to cross the road and the camber of the road steered wheelchairs off route. You can see how this experience changed their perspective in this short video. Definitely worth a watch.
Places Raquel Siganporia likes in Islington
- Frederickâs, 106 Camden Passage, is amazing for a special occasion with friends, but at the same time chilled out. They have a ramp to the exterior so the terrace area is good for people spotting.
- Zia Luccia on 157 Holloway Road is really busy, and cosy. Itâs not the sort of place youâd think would have a disabled bathroom but they do and they did this right from the start. Itâs used by everybody and it works. They did a really good apple, truffle and cheese pizza on a charcoal base.
- The Gate, 370 St John Street, has really good substantial vegetarian food that makes you feel like youâve had a proper meal.
- Every Wetherspoon pub has a toilet and a disabled lift if itâs needed. I also like the Narrowboat, 119 St Peter Street, and the Canonbury Tavern, 21 Canonbury Place. The Brewhouse at Highbury Corner has good games, like Jenga, and good gastro pub food.
- Sadlerâs Wells is geared up for access and has a variety of entertainment. You can go for a drink or to the restaurant, and they have an access scheme so thereâs provision for carers.
âItâs not just Islington that is a problem,â adds Raquel. âItâs endemic across the country, wherever my clients, who have spinal cord injuries, live in England and Wales. In a split second their life completely changes. They go from freedom with no limits on physical access to suddenly having to think:
- Can they meet their friend for a coffee?
- Can they park nearby?
- Is there a step?
- Are the pavements ramped up?
- Or can they be dropped by a bus where they want to be?”
“If I could get every member of the local council and every business owner to sit in a wheelchair thatâs what Iâd like to do. People donât intend to be blind to the issues but they havenât had the opportunity to really think about it.â
âEvery disability is different. We wanted to encourage young students to think about the needs of the disability market. Sometimes you just need a bit of kit or finance to make peopleâs lives better and easier. Often that then comes into everyday life, for example, Alexa for Amazon was probably developed initially for people who had very severe disabilities where they could only use their voice to command their environment. These were the early versions of voice control equipment. I canât change a lightbulb or open windows that are high up. Is there something that could be developed so I could do this?â she asks.
And thatâs what you can find out. Go and have a look at the rules for the Getting Back on Track comp and share widely with creative friends and family â especially design students. Everyone can help especially those who have a Heath Robinson knack of working out just whatâs needed, or are great at sharing information with people whoâd love this sort of challenge. Very good luck to all the entrants.
- Find out more about Bolt Burdon Kempâs Getting Back on Track competition (rules/prize and video â entries close 21 May 2018) see
- Specialist claims solicitors Bolt Burdon Kemp is at Providence House, Providence Place, N1.
UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 2018)
The winner of law firm Bolt Burdon Kempâs inaugural student design competition, âGetting Back on Trackâ isÂ Kristen Tapping, 36, second year product design student at London South Bank University produced the winning design – an innovative wheelchair, âMoveoâ, which is designed to propel the user forwards by them pushing backwards â exerting less force and effort than a normal wheelchair. Kristen wins ÂŁ3,000 prize money, plus ÂŁ2,000 for her university.
This wheelchair was designed especially for people with a spinal cord injury and makes moving easy through gear reduction, lightweight yet high strength materials, and carefully designed to give the user more grip. With comfort in mind, intelligent textiles also help to regulate the usersâ body temperature.
The purpose of the competition was for UK-based university students to design a product aimed at improving the lives of people with a spinal cord injury. Bolt Burdon Kemp, which acts for people with a spinal cord injury and helps them get their lives back on track, was looking for a design which was both unique and practical, and which really considered the needs of those with a spinal cord injury.
Kristenâs design was judged the winner by a panel of experts including Raquel Siganporia, head of the spinal injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, Dr Ross Head, Associate Professor at the University of Wales TSD Swansea and Product Design Manager of Cerebra Innovation Centre and Ian Hosking from Wheelchair Rugby Experience.
Commenting on the winning design, Raquel Siganporia, head of the spinal injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, said:
âI was really impressed with a great number of the entries, but Kristenâs showed real understanding of the needs of people with a spinal cord injury. For many people with a spinal cord injury, their wheelchair is the most essential piece of equipment they use every day. To recognise the designâs shortcomings and come up with an innovative and viable alternative is no mean feat.Â In my role I see lots of people who have suffered life-changing spinal cord injuries â be it from an accident or as a result of clinical negligence.Â In these instances, my client needs to adjust to their injury, their new mobility needs and get back to their ânew normalâ as soon as possible â innovations like Kristenâs Moveo can really help.â
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola