Award winner sets out dream of an inclusive future

Former para-athlete and business consultant Claire Buckle won the Inclusive Innovation category at last month’s Northern Power Women Awards, sponsored by Connected Places Catapult. Here she speaks about her development of an app to help more people understand mobility challenges faced by those with disabilities.

“My nephew asked what it was like having cerebral palsy and I couldn’t answer him because I don’t know anything else,” recalls Claire Buckle shortly after picking up a trophy for work promoting inclusivity, including her new app Xplore DisAbility. “So I tried to think of a way to show him using technology, and the idea of the app was born.”

Claire is a former para-athlete and represented Great Britain in the discus and shot put in several international events. Following retirement from competitive sport she founded Ability Consultancy to promote inclusivity and accessibility for all.

Claire had no previous experience of creating technical solutions, but recognised that an app would be the best way of engaging with younger people used to interacting with tablet computers. She created a storyboard of how she wanted it to look, approached Lancaster University and a prototype was developed.

Four years later and Claire was on stage at Manchester Convention Centre picking up an award for Inclusive Innovation at the Northern Power Women ceremony, supported by Connected Places Catapult and its Inclusive Innovation Network. In April, the app was launched for smartphones and tablets on both Apple and Android devices.

Claire is a former para-athlete and represented Great Britain in the discus and shot put

“I was in total shock,” she says on hearing she had won the award. “There were some huge international businesses there, and I wasn’t expecting to actually win at all; I didn’t know what to do!”

Xplore DisAbility uses augmented and virtual reality to give non-disabled persons a chance to understand how people with visual, hearing or mobility issues are affected in their everyday lives.

To show users how the world may look through the eyes of a person with visual impairment, the app displays filters on a screen depicting a range of 10 forms of sight problems such as patchy, cloudy or tunnel vision.

The app also provides users with 40 everyday words and sayings through BSL sign language to help them enjoy better conversations with those with hearing loss. In addition, challenging mobility issues are highlighted through the app with a series of cartoons showing a house, garden, café and workspace; each flagging up issues in each space that could be a challenge for someone with a physical impairment.

Claire adds that the app can be used to provide guidance to primary and secondary age children and young people on ways to better understand the needs of those with physical, mental or cognitive disabilities.

“I didn’t have the greatest experience in school only because I was only disabled child in my class, so I am trying to educate and change mindsets among the next generation so that everyone is treated on the same level,” Claire says. “I want to make sure that disabled people in future can live, learn and earn like their peers.”

The app can also be used by local authority professionals to help them to better design public spaces that provide inclusive access to everyone. “I hope that it helps to change how non-disabled persons see disability and for accessibility not to be an afterthought in placemaking and design,” she says.

She stresses too that improving access for those with disabilities is not just about fairness, but about the economy too. “I was with a friend in a wheelchair who had recently moved to a village that had a restaurant with only steps up to the front door. Because it wasn’t accessible, they lost a customer.”

A supportive network

Since her award win last month, Claire Buckle has been liaising with the Inclusive Innovation Network and Connected Places Catapult about future opportunities.

“They have been very helpful in trying to build networks for me and helping me to decide on what comes next. I have a mentor I can speak to, and the group allows people like me to bounce ideas off each other, and ask for feedback.”
Claire Buckle

She urges other entrepreneurs and business leaders working on inclusive projects to “follow your heart” to help make their dreams happen. “I never set out to have an app; I had an idea and just went with it. You have to believe in who you are and what you do, take some risks and deal with challenges.”

Connected Places Catapult’s Business Director for Local & Devolved Government, Alex Cousins said: “Claire Buckle was a worthy winner of the Inclusive Innovation Award for her work to design the app.

“We had an inspiring day at the Northern Power Women Awards, with a meet and greet with those shortlisted where we discussed inclusive innovation, their projects and plans for the future. We introduced the Inclusive Innovation Network and asked them to get involved so we could amplify the wonderful work they are doing to drive all people into the innovation economy.”

Also recognised in the Inclusive Innovation category was Dr Natalie Kenny, founder of BioGrad, for her work to create an inclusive innovation centre that offers staff free childcare, a creche and support for mortgage deposits.

This approach helps professionals in the innovation economy to remain in the sector who may otherwise struggle with competing demands of having a family or buying a home.

In addition, Connected Places Catapult’s Place Development Lead, Catherine Hadfield Hadfield was added to the Northern Power Women Future List which recognises the leaders and change makers of the future who are already making a difference in their communities.