SMART Suit: Advanced Design Research for a New Assistive Upper Body Mobility Device

The Inclusive Mobility team at the Inclusionaries Lab are collaborating with charities Duchenne UK (DMD UK) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy UK (SMA UK) on a £1.25M project to develop the ‘SMART Suit’ – a first of its kind exoskeleton suit to help young people living with neuromuscular diseases to use their upper body and give back their strength, independence and dignity.

When we lose the ability to walk, a wheelchair keeps us moving and independent, but no device currently exists to help when we lose the use of our arms. For people living with progressive conditions like DMD and SMA, losing upper body function means losing the ability to feed yourself, put your hand up in class, or hug your loved ones. For the past 50 years of Inclusive Mobility Design, there has been a lack of true innovation to address this problem which has left people living with upper-limb disability to face barriers in work, education, and social life – the SMART Suit aims to finally change this.

In 2022, the SMART Suit project was awarded a £1.25 million grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund to support the research, design and development of a revolutionary assistive device to enhance upper body movement for children and young people living with progressive neuromuscular diseases.

We have partnered with leading organisations across industry, academia and charity sectors (Figure 1) as well as expert clinicians, therapists and an enthusiastic community of lived experience experts with progressive neuromuscular diseases. Our interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to the project aims to ensure advanced human-centred design principles are embedded in the Smart Suit, with the aim of changing the way that such assistive devices are described, perceived, defined, designed and delivered, to ultimately achieve transformative systemic impact.

Figure 1. Project partners

Transitioning Designerly Ways to Achieve Systems Change

How can we achieve the desired outcome for the design of the Smart Suit?

Starting with Designerly Investigations

How can narratives be used throughout the Smart Suit design process and beyond?


Initial interviews and observations with lived experience experts will be taking place from October 2022 until April 2023. This includes anyone with a NMD such as DMD or SMA, and their parents/carers – if you have such lived experience of upper body mobility loss and would like to find out more about opportunities to participate in the Smart Suit project research, please get in touch using the contact details below.

To find out more about this project, contact Dr Farnaz Nickpour or Cara Shaw

Inclusive Mobility Design Publications

orange bullet pointDesign as an Agent of Children’s Rights? Inclusive Mobility Design for Children with Disabilities (Routledge International Handbook on Children’s Rights and Disability, 2022).

orange bullet pointDesign as an Agent of Narratives: A conceptual framework and a first exploration in the context of Inclusive Paediatric Mobility Design (Design Research Society International Conference, 2022).

orange bullet pointDesign as an Agent of Narratives (Preprint Journal Article, 2022)

orange bullet pointChild-centred Framing Through Design Research: A Framework For Analysing Children’s ‘Dream Wheelchair’ Designs to Elicit Meaning and Elevate Their Voice (Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 2022).

orange bullet pointA Framework for Transitioning Designerly Ways; Interrogating 50 Years of Inclusive Design for Paediatric Mobility
(Design Journal 2021, Volume 24, Issue 6).

orange bullet pointWhat Can Be Learnt From 130 Children’s Dream Wheelchair Designs? Eliciting Child-centred Insights Using an Interdisciplinary Design Analysis Framework
(International Conference on Engineering Design, 2021).

orange bullet pointDesigning an All-terrain Wheelchair; A Case Study of Design for Social Impact in Less Resourced Settings (International Conference on Engineering Design, 2021).

50 Years of Inclusive Design for Childhood Mobility; Insights from an Illustrative Mapping Review (Design Research Society International Conference, 2020).

Drivers for Change; Initial Insights from Mapping Half a Century of Inclusive Paediatric Mobility Design (Advances in Usability, User Experience, Wearable and Assistive Technology; Book chapter, 2020).

Designing an Innovative Walking Aid Kit; A Case Study of Design in Inclusive Healthcare Products (Designing Around People; Book chapter, 2016).

Beyond Accessible Mobility: Insights into Psychosocial Inclusivity Dimensions in Personal Transport (Studies in Health Technology and Informatics Journal, 2016).

Mobility Adaptation Priorities Study (MAPS); Scoping future research priorities for the mobility needs of people with disabilities (Full Report, 2015).

Mobility Adaptation Priorities Study Plan (Project Website, 2015).

Mentality Shift in Public Transport – from physical accessibility to psychosocial inclusion (Trends in Universal Design; Book chapter, 2014).

Inclusive Bus Travel: A Psychosocial Approach (Designing Inclusive Systems; Book chapter, 2012).