Innovation Challenge of the Year Award


Finalist of the Innovation Challenge of the Year Award

"Co-designing ability – TOM@University shifting the paradigm of assistive solution development"

Have a say and vote for your favorite entries

Unregistered vote
100 points per vote*
Simply click the icon below and we register your vote.

* Unregistered votes are only counted up to the total points received through registered and social media votes.
Registered vote
500 points per vote
Provide your email address and click on "vote". You will then receive an email that enables you to verify your vote by clicking on a link.

Social media vote
1500 points per (re)tweet
Tweet or retweet using the following two hashtags:


TOM@University program is the first of its kind; a unique three-way partnership between a global philanthropic organisation, inter-disciplinary student teams within a university and Need Knowers who want solutions for individual challenges in their daily lives. The program shifts thinking in the way assistive solutions are developed. All too often people living with disability have products designed ‘for’ them, and not ‘with’ them. TOM@University is unique because Need Knowers and student teams co-design solutions together. The experience is collaborative, iterative, human-centred, and is an example of the melding of three diverse disciplines that results in bespoke products that have a real and direct impact on people’s lives. The program disrupts assistive technology and device industry as part of a larger healthcare industry paradigm shift. It creates economic and social impact in a unique way as the aim is to create as affordable solutions as possible and all outcomes are open-source, available for everyone through the TOM:Global digital platform. The solutions to date include an automatic wheelchair cleaning station, a bowling-launching device, a dog walking solution for a quadruple amputee, a pickup stick, flotation suit and anchorage for hydrotherapy and cleaning & storage-unit for a CPAP mask (last 4 in the product development phase). Furthermore, the program harnesses global reach in a scalable way, as overlaying two networks (TOM:Global and communities across the globe and Design Factory Global Network) enables effective dissemination of the outcomes and internationalisation of the program.

Key People

Pauliina Mattila
Strategy and Culture, Lecturer, Coach
Design Factory Melbourne,  Swinburne University of Technology

Alex Graham
Engineering Practice Academy / Design Factory Melbourne,  Swinburne University of Technology

Ravi Bessava
Prototyping Coach
Design Factory Melbourne,  Swinburne University of Technology

Anne Prince
Design Factory Melbourne,  Swinburne University of Technology

PaRIS Triantis
Design Factory Melbourne,  Swinburne University of Technology

Further key people


Ben Shemesh, Manager of Innovation and Development, TOM:Melbourne Kylie Appel, Executive Director, TOM:Melbourne Debbie Dadon, Director, TOM:Melbourne Abbie Gosling, Communications and Events Manager, TOM:Melbourne Anita Kocsis, Director, Design Factory Melbourne Christine Thong, Academic Director, Design Factory Melbourne Angela Pye, Research Coordinator, Design Factory Melbourne Jane Ward, Vice President of Collaboration&Partnerships, Swinburne University Vision Australia Doug Haig, CEO, Solve Disability Solutions Nicole Coulthard, Innovation Advisor, Scope Onemda Nick Hall, Coach, Design Factory Melbourne, Swinburne University Jennifer Turner, Director of Community Partnerships, Engineering Practice Academy The staff from the Protolab for their expertise and guidance in developing the prototypes. Angela, Need Knower Hank, Need Knower Geoff, Need Knower Steve, Need Knower Nick, Need Knower Mandy, Need Knower, Jules, Need Knower, Stacey, Need Knower Lou, Need Knower Mary, Need Knower John, Need Knower Jack, Need Knower


Mandy's wheelchair cleaning station. Need Knower Mandy's, a quadruple amputee, wish was to find a way to clean her wheel chair with ease as it gets often dirty from being on dirt roads or in the garden.

Bowling machine for Need Knower Jules, a wheelchair user. He wanted to find a way to play bowling and he can only use his hands to move a joystick in his wheel chair.

Mandy's wheelchair cleaning station. Need Knower Mandy's, a quadruple amputee, wish was to find a way to clean her wheel chair with ease as it gets often dirty from being on dirt roads or in the garden.

Swinburne students and Need Knower Jules find a way to make indoor bowling possible. Students and Need Knowers work alongside the student teams throughout the program in a co-creative manner.


Impacting lifes

People living with disability are used to devices being done ‘to’ them not ‘with them’. Enacting the disability inclusion call ‘nothing about us, without us’, TOM@University is a game changer where Mandy, Lou, John, Mary and many other ‘experts by experience’ challenge, collaborate and connect with university students. The design journey lasts many weeks, involving wild ideas, dead ends, lots of laughter, research, cardboard and glue. These journeys into the unknown might involve 3D printers, laser cutters, and more, but at their heart they involve a deep engagement with each other, a mutual exchange of knowledge, and a deep respect for diversity.

The journey doesn’t stop here. A team of dedicated Engineering students take the innovative ideas developed by Design and Occupational Therapy students and turn them into fully fledged functioning solutions. As a result, Need Knower Mandy can now independently go outdoors and inside using her wheelchair cleaning station, Jules can go bowling with mates, John will be able to walk his dog and Mary can sleep better on her travels.

Equally, the engineering students receive tremendous motivation from working with a real client, developing unique, non-standard solutions that have the potential to change someone’s wellbeing and quality of life immediately. They often went more than the extra mile to make it work and the gratitude from the Need Knowers at the end of the process is extraordinarily empowering. Students will graduate with confidence that they are able to solve tricky and unique challenges.


Lessons learned

genuine engagement with each other and a willingness to work ‘with’ and not ‘on’ our clients/users is a key outcome. This has transformative potential for the disability community and for university students whose life experience may not yet fully encompass life with disability and the possible innovations stemming from these constraints. Involving our clients as people in the process from beginning to end was a valuable experience to our students, and an enjoyable experience to the partners (Need Knowers) who were able to be involved in bringing a solution to life throughout the process from needs identification through development, testing, and delivery.

Collaboration is the foundational base for everything. There was strong collaboration within our teams of students and their Need Knowers, but the value of being involved in the process from concept through to delivery to ensure that the outcomes were feasible, viable, and user-centered cannot be stressed enough. Leadership advice from this project would be to ensure there are ‘champions’ at all levels to carry on the learnings from phase to phase.

True interdisciplinary collaboration within an organisation is not easy. Specifically, academia and university organisations are built for disciplinary activities. In order to successfully implement these kinds of programs and challenges, the team needs individuals who are willing to jump hurdles and come up with creative ways to go about existing structures especially in the establishment phase.


What's coming?

Future plans include concluding the product development phase in the second round of the program, continuing to offer this unique program at Swinburne, and internationalisation of the curriculum.

The second round of the program moves to the ‘productising’ phase. The engineering students will take 4 concepts developed in the second round - a pickup stick, a flotation suit and anchorage for hydrotherapy, storage and cleaning unit for a CPAP mask and a dog walking solution - into further product development so that fully functioning products would be in use in 2020. This process reflects the previous iteration of TOM@University that resulted in two fully developed products. Design documentation for each product is made freely available online to an international audience by TOM, meaning that the innovative solutions created in TOM@University can be adopted by others anywhere in the world. Another cohort of health, design and engineering students will begin the process again with new Need Knowers in 2020, further establishing TOM@University as a spearhead program.

Regarding the curriculum internationalisation, DFM is discussing with TOM:Global to create an online program that is scalable and that can be easily disseminated world-wide. The online program is designed to be both a stand-alone course and a supportive element to the face-to-face delivery. It will provide knowledge on inclusive design and assistive technology, merging the language of health, design and engineering disciplines for assistive solution development. Furthermore, DFM is discussing with three locations (Philadelphia, New York and Santiago) regarding specific support for launching TOM@University programs.



Number of students involved in creating the solutions


Number of industry partners in the program to date


Number of Need Knowers’ (people living with disabilities) challenges solved


Number of life-enhancing solutions created

2024 © ACEEU. All rights reserved.