Invention To Help Disabled People Open Food Packaging Receives £10,000 Funding Boost

Simon Lyons - Design for Life Competition Winner In His Design Studio

Simon Lyons, Design for Life competition winner in his design studio

Irwin Mitchell And Disability Rights UK Announce Winner of Design for Life Initiative To Help Disabled People Live Independently

Millions of disabled people who struggle to open food packaging such as bags of rice and pasta could receive help from a new invention which is to be given development funding after it won a competition to help disabled people to live more independently.

Design for Life is a competition organised by Irwin Mitchell ( in association with Disability Rights UK (, a charity working to create a society where everyone can participate equally as full citizens. The initiative is also supported by Nesta, the innovation charity that helps people and organisations bring great ideas to life.

The competition received over 100 entries from people with ideas and solutions to support disabled people to live more independently and to improve their quality of life. Several key themes emerged throughout the entries including:

  • Gripping tools for people facing dexterity challenges
  • Organisation ideas for disabled people such as those diagnosed with autism
  • Devices to enable wheelchair users to venture off the usual path, e.g. on the beach or fields
  • And support for everyday tasks for blind people.

The winning entry, chosen by a panel of judges with extensive experience of working with product design with and for disabled people, was a device to help those with hand or co-ordination disabilities to open tricky packaging with just a swipe of their hand. It was chosen as the winner because of its scalability and because it could potentially help a number of different disabled communities, with an estimated 2.3 million people over 50 in the UK alone having a form of hand disability.

Irwin Mitchell will now work with the winner to provide funding up to the value of £10,000 to contribute to the development of a prototype of the winning device.

Product developer Simon Lyons, 25, from Loughborough, who submitted the winning design, said: “I noticed that particular problem packaging included peel-top cartons, bottles or bags of rice or pasta. Most packaging for food items requires a degree of thumb to finger grip strength which is just not achievable for many people with disabilities. Unless they seek alternative products they either have to ask for help which impacts on their independence or struggle to use knives and scissors to help which could be dangerous.

“I was involved in a project where disabled people posted videos of everyday problems they faced and the most complained about issue was difficulties opening packages so I set myself the task of solving the problem.

“I’m very proud that the judges liked my entry and that they thought that it was good enough to be worthy of development funds. The panel included people who know this field better than anyone so it means a lot that they like my idea.”

Simon’s solution of a cutting tool that allows people to open such packaging when suffering from limited coordination and grip strength will now go under more extensive research and development with help from one of the judges, Professor Peter Ford, Head of Commercial Design, De Montfort University, Leicester.

Stuart Henderson, Managing Partner of Personal Injury at Irwin Mitchell said: “We were amazed by the level of entrants to the Design For Life programme and its extremely encouraging that so many people care about improving people’s lives.

“We hope that in developing Simon’s product we can help to improve the quality of life for people living with dexterity difficulties and hand impairments. The competition has already helped stimulate discussion and raise awareness but it would be even better if we can create a genuine product which assists with independent living and ultimately helps those with disabilities to enjoy better lives.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, a charity partner for the competition and one of the judges, said: “The beauty of Simon’s innovation is that it fulfils a very widespread need with the utmost simplicity. It exemplifies the point that when you design something well for people living with an impairment, for instance, difficulties with manual dexterity, the product has much wider potential usefulness and therefore market.

“We were excited to see so much inventiveness applied to transforming the choice, control and day to day lives of disabled people. Deciding on a winner was tough as there were so many strong ideas. Everyone shortlisted put forward proposals with potential; and we were pleased to commend some that particularly impressed us with the difference they could make and the rigour that went into the proposal.”

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