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About our 'In the Making' project

13 August 2014

A successful bid to the Arts and Humanities Research Council is set to make disabled people pioneers in a new industrial revolution

Researchers and disability rights campaigners have collaborated to secure funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council's 'Connected Communities' scheme. Disability Rights UK, the University of Salford, and the University of Dundee will work together to explore the possibilities of digital fabrication. The project is titled 'In the Making', and will involve disabled people in developing commercial, social and creative benefits from new digital fabrication technology.

Digital fabrication is growing in popularity. It allows anyone with a computer and a 3-D printer to produce three-dimensional objects from computer files – and these files can be sent and downloaded from anywhere in the world. The 'In the Making' project aims to find out whether this revolutionary technology can help to improve the lives of disabled people, their families and the communities in which they live. There are already examples of disabled people using this technology to design and produce objects, such as ramps, that make life easier. The researchers want to know if we can take this further. Could people make things that others want to buy? Or make things that draw attention to disability rights? Or make art? Working with disabled people, this project will offer access to and training in digital fabrication. Mobile equipment will be brought to community venues so that people can discover and learn to use the technology. Disabled people will be involved with every stage of the research. The insights produced will be used to explore how people can become 'makers' of solutions rather than merely recipients of 'help', re-casting themselves as digital entrepreneurs who overcome barriers through their own creativity.

The project will begin in January 2015, and the first stage will be to ‘map’ how disabled people access and make use of existing digital fabrication provision, often to be found in ‘Fab Labs’. The second stage, beginning June 2015, will work with people in and around Greater Manchester, bringing mobile digital fabrication equipment into community centres, shops, and more unexpected venues such as care homes. Experts from the Manchester Fab Lab and arts facilitators Artha + Martha will support disabled users in imagining and making useful and inspirational creations. The final stage of the project will see researchers and community groups present their results to policy makers and stakeholders at an exhibition to be held at the University of Salford’s MediaCityUK campus.

Principal Investigator, Dr Ursula Hurley, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Salford, specialises in researching creative processes and reflective practice. She said: 'The focus of our investigation is to explore whether digital fabrication can be of use to those with lived experience of disability, not just practically (i.e. making assistive aids) but also in creative, political and economic terms. We aim to initiate a conversation between the arts, disability studies and human computer interaction, with a focus on pathways to social benefits.'

Philip Connolly, Policy and Communications Manager of Disability Rights UK, takes on the role of Community Co-investigator, a new category of researcher being piloted by the AHRC to facilitate better access to expertise beyond academia. Philip said: 'Already some disabled people are printing their own customised prosthetic limbs or ramps. Disability Rights UK, through this partnership, hopes to ensure that in this new industrial revolution that our society is currently going through disabled people are not left behind but can lead that revolution too.'

Co-investigator Dr Nick Taylor, Dundee Fellow at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee, brings expertise in deploying interactive technology in community settings, and will lead on the technical aspects of the project. He said: 'This is an innovative, interdisciplinary project. New conversations and possibilities will emerge as a national campaigning organisation collaborates with designers, community arts practitioners and academic researchers. I'm keen to see what develops, especially for my own field of human computer interaction.'

FabLab

Further details:

Connected Communities Scheme: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Research-funding/Connected-Communities/Pages/Connected-Communities.aspx

Mr Philip Connolly 
Policy and Communications Manager
Disability Rights UK
CAN Mezzanine, 49-51 East Road, London, N1 6AH
Telephone 020 7250 8181 
http://disabilityrightsuk.org/ 
Philip.Connolly@disabilityrightsuk.org

Dr Ursula Hurley
Senior Lecturer, English and Creative Writing
School of Arts and Media
The University of Salford
Greater Manchester M5 4WT
u.k.hurley@salford.ac.uk

Salford Press Office:

Ben Cawley
Press and PR Officer
T +44 (0)161 295 4779
b.cawley@salford.ac.uk

Dr Nick Taylor
Dundee Fellow 
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design
University of Dundee
Perth Road
Dundee
Scotland
DD1 4HT

n.x.taylor@dundee.ac.uk