Cara O’Sullivan

Creating an inexpensive, long-term walking aid for people on low incomes

Over 18% of the global population has moderate to extreme difficulty with walking, and the global need for walking aids is set to keep rising as the population grows and ages. Whether it’s a walking stick, crutches, or a walking fame, it is important that people are provided with the correct type of support as their conditions change in order to prevent further injury or falls. After visiting a mobility rehabilitation centre in rural Peru, Cara became aware of the severe lack of walking aids available in developing regions of the world, particularly for people living on little or no income. This is preventing people from working, getting an education, and participating in their community.

To solve this problem Cara set out to design a long-term and affordable solution to mobility rehabilitation across developing regions of the world. She developed a modular walking aid kit which can be tailored to suit the needs of a user as their condition changes. The kit utilises the global availability of timber pallets and cable ties, and by tailoring the manufacturing methods to suit the skills of local craftsmen, the design can be locally produced in a sustainable manner. The kit can be assembled to form a walking frame, a pair of axillary crutches, or a walking stick. Costing less than 70 pence to make, people on low income are able to afford it without relying on charity aid.

In order to reach the final design Cara thoroughly explored a range of materials, fixing mechanisms, and manufacturing techniques which all required prototyping and testing. The Dave Granshaw Foundation provided funding for this process which was fundamental to discovering the ideal solution. Cara was awarded the Institute of Engineering Designers (IED) annual student award for her project, and was a finalist for the Nesta Inclusive Technology Prize and the James Dyson Foundation Award.

You can see more of Cara’s work at