Sal Cooke Jisc TechDisA new government-backed competition is calling for ground-breaking product designs that enable learners with disabilities or learning difficulties to enjoy greater independence and improved access to training and education.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and Technology Strategy Board competition, run by Jisc TechDis, an advisory service on technologies for inclusion, has made £1 million worth of funding available, spread over two competitions - ‘Ready, steady, STEM’ and ‘Good to go’. These are aimed at technology developers and ask designers to invent new products that will help those with disabilities and learning difficulties gain independence and access to work, training and education.

Ready, steady, STEM is about opening up access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which present a range of accessibility issues for people with dyslexia, dyscalculia and manual dexterity difficulties. Challenges include having to work with pen and paper, manipulating formulae and symbols, or interacting with diagrams and graphs. This competition also aims to help people with disabilities to take advantage of the new routes to apprenticeships via traineeships and internships. The aim is to increase equality of access and instil confidence for those whose disabilities currently present barriers in accessing STEM subjects.

Meanwhile, Good to Go looks to address the barriers to independence people with disabilities can face in accessing work-based technologies and equipment. There are two complementary elements to Good to go. The first is about managing risk and increasing independence in unfamiliar or challenging environments. The second is about enabling people to access the information needed so they can work more independently. This competition seeks to discover new solutions and critical to the success of any project is the ability for people with minimal or modest technical skills to easily adapt the support given as environments change or the learner needs reduce.

Skills minister, Matthew Hancock, said: “It is important that as many people as possible have the chance to play an active part in society and have access to whatever training they need.
“Competitions like these help to drive innovation and will hopefully produce some very interesting results that will widen access to those with learning difficulties or disabilities.”

Sal Cooke (pictured), director of Jisc TechDis, added: “Equality of opportunity should be available to everyone regardless of circumstance and these competitions are an important part of our support for independent learning, working and living.”

The deadline for applications is November 4. Competition briefs and application forms are available on the Jisc TechDis website. For more information please contact Allison Loftfield, online information and communications manager at Jisc TechDis - allison@techdis.ac.uk or 01904 717542.