Event Review: Global Disability Innovation Summit


In July hundreds of people attended the world’s first Global Disability Innovation Summit in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Delivered by new social start-up the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), the event marked a step change in Disability Innovation, attracting world leaders in Assistive Tech, Design and Inclusive Development to London to start a new conversation about Disability.

Covering everything from wheelchairs and wearable tech, to art, culture, charity, corporate and sport, 70 speakers joined Paralympians, Comedians, Academics, Artists and local disabled people’s organisation to set out a new manifesto for disability innovation which puts disabled people at its heart. Speakers included the World Bank, World Health Organisation, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Red Cross, UNICEF, International Labour Organisation, Microsoft, Barclays, the BBC, Channel 4 and the British Paralympic Association.

GDI Hub’s vision is to change the way we look at disability, using tech to make a difference to the lives of the World’s one billion disabled people by 2030. Born out of the legacy of the 2012 Paralympic Games the hub is led by the University College London, in partnership with Loughborough University London, University of the Arts London (London College of Fashion), London Legacy Development Corporation, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art.  

Charlotte V McClain-Nhalpo, Global Disability Advisor for the World Bank said:

“I was delighted to be invited to the GDI Summit and genuinely enthused by the quality of contributions and the breadth of knowledge brought together in such a diverse strong audience. GDI Hub is new and genuinely innovative force in Disability Inclusion on a global scale. I look forward to many more events like this.”

Throughout the programme the summit addressed a huge variety of topics, from assistive technology to arts and fashion, hidden disabilities to business and broadcasting. A highlight of the first day was Leena Haque from BBC CAPE explaining her view of the world with;

“Autism: a bit like Alice in Wonderland meets Guantanamo Bay”.

Leena thinks in pictures. Her schools believed she couldn’t read, and she couldn’t until she discovered comic books.  When she left University she struggled to get a job, but the BBC’s Project Cape (Creating a Positive Environment) have given her and other neurodivergent employees the support to thrive.

Taking place alongside the World Para-Athletic Championships, the summit also looked at ‘London 2012; what’s changed’. The session was a fascinating insight looking at sporting legacy to the socio-economic development and the wider social impact of the games. Tim Hollingsworth OBE, Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association was joined by Channel 4’s Dan Brooke (Chief Marketing & Communications Officer) and a number of other guests.

The Disability Innovation Summit was a collaborative event, designed to bring people together, begin conversations and build collaborations for the future.  

GDI Hub Directors Dr Catherine Holloway (on behalf of UCL) and Victoria Austin (on behalf of LLDC) said:

“When we started the Hub less than a year ago we could never have imagined the momentum that has gathered from local disabled people to academics, cultural and corporate partners and institutions such as the WHO and ICRC. This truly feels like the start of a global movement to embed innovation in every aspect of disability thinking from technology design to policy.’

Jasmin Khanom