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Themes: Inclusive Design

From physiotherapy to an inclusive design award: my MSc journey

A white lady in a white shirt smiling at the camera

Kate Mattick

Engagement Coordinator and Research Support

A cartoon of two men cycling down a road on a sunny day

Being part of the first cohort for the Masters in Disability, Design and Innovation has been one of the greatest learning curves. When I first read about this course, I was honestly really torn, stuck between applying for this and a masters in global health.

I come from a healthcare background and was most drawn to the “global” aspect of this masters. I am a committee member of ADAPT, the specialist interest group for physiotherapists working in global health, and have spent some time working internationally as well as within the NHS.

These experiences have fuelled my passion to work within the field of disability and development, seeing how the sociocultural contexts of where a person is born directly impacts their experience of disability, the services and assistive technology they have access to.

I think I speak for some of the students when I say that the journey through this brand-new masters was not without its bumps. But looking back I personally have no regrets. It has been an exceptionally unique opportunity to study alongside such a diverse cohort of other students – computer programmers, sociologists and designers to name just a few.

I think, for me, it’s this collaboration of thinking that has made the course both challenging and compelling. I believe every student came on the course with different knowledge and skills, each having their own expectation of what they wanted out of the next year.

A fellow student from a design background openly told me “I honestly had no idea what a physiotherapist was doing on this course” – the same thought had once gone through my head when I was learning the basics of python programming language.

However, we formed friendships and learnt together, sharing knowledge and insights of our previous experience and the cultural contexts to disability of the countries we each came from.

The teaching styles and modules were broad and far reaching to try and account for the diverse group. No doubt some modules resonated with some students more so than others but there was learning opportunities to take from each.

I have relished in the chance of working outside of a healthcare bubble, learning about the impact of different professions on people's lives, and I have developed skills I never would have had the chance to. Skills which I believe are applicable to multiple situations: systems thinking, research and working out how to tackle ‘wicked’ problems that are based on people’s real-life experiences.

Winning the RSA student design award this year for my project Chat-e-Cycle was completely unexpected.

Winning the RSA student design award this year for my project Chat-e-Cycle was completely unexpected. When presented with the brief in Iain McKinnon’s inclusive design module I felt passionately about the topic “healthy routes”. The desire to tackle this brief came from my work as a frailty physiotherapist, passion for ageing well and knowledge of how transport is often the biggest barrier for rural residents, not just in the UK, but globally.

When entering the RSA awards, I had encouragement from other students on the module and Iain. However, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself when I submitted my rudimentary sketches - completely intimidated by the other high standards of professional design portfolios.

Brainstorm of the design cycle on paper.
Brainstorm of the design cycle on paper

I hope, in some way, winning demonstrates how everyone has the potential to think like a designer and how this masters can teach you to apply your previous skills in new ways, opening up opportunities for yourself that you had never anticipated. I personally have been able to draw unexpected similarities: physiotherapy is often considered a “problem-solving” profession and design, I learnt, is known for the same.

So, to conclude my student experience:

This year I stepped out of my comfort zone and as a result have a foundation in a broad set of areas. I have enjoyed the chance to think more laterally, creatively and practically about how to frame disability, how technology and design can influence lives and how disability can be a source of innovation.

I didn’t know what to expect heading into this course and at times felt uncertain of my place. But if others want to learn about different approaches for solving problems, within an emerging field of disability innovation, alongside a diverse group of students then I’d encourage you to seize the opportunity.

Brainstorm of the design cycle
Brainstorm of the design cycle