Hi, my name is Rob Smith. I am a Director of the Active Hands Company and the designer of our gripping aids. In 1996 I was a twenty year old student studying Mechanical Engineering at Warwick University. During a holiday with friends I fell down a cliff and suffered a high-level spinal cord injury which left me with partial paralysis in all four limbs. After spending nine months in a Salisbury spinal rehabilitation unit I was able to return to University as a disabled student to complete my degree course.
My injury was an incomplete injury (the spinal cord was not completely severed) so I am able to stand and to walk very short distances using crutches, however, I use a wheelchair for many day-to-day activities. It was hard to come to terms with the restricted movement in my lower body but I began to realise that it was actually the frustration of having very poor function and strength in my hands that restricted my life much more. Although I was able to find suitable equipment to overcome my mobility issue, I just could not find anything that enabled me to overcome my grip problems. Activities that were easy before my injury were now completely unavailable to me as my hand function would not allow me to do them. It was at this point that I began designing gripping aids to enable me to grasp hold of my independence again. I began working with my mum on her sewing machine to try and solve some of these gripping issues. After a number of prototypes and some experimentation and testing with different methods, materials and designs we came up with the basic designs which have developed into the core of the Active Hands Gripping aids we sell today.
The products were initially designed for my personal use but some of the people that I played wheelchair rugby with saw me using them in the gym and showed an interest in obtaining a pair. At this point we realised that we had the potential to help more people with hand function disabilities and we decided to set up the Active Hands Company. Our General Purpose gripping aid was our first product. It is the most versatile of our products and can be used for gripping objects in the gym; outdoors, such as for kayaking or biking; in the house (for cleaning and doing DIY); in the garden and kitchen; and for activities such as snooker. New uses for our gripping aids are being discovered all the time.
As time went on we developed new products and gained knowledge of other disability groups who could also benefit from our gripping products. In 2007, Active Hands became a Limited Company and we now sell direct to end users all over the world via our website and through resellers in other countries all around the world. We are now the go-to place for hand-related products.
We are still a family owned and run business and we pride ourselves in the quality of our products, our knowledge of the issues faced by those with grip problems and our customer service.
Personally I have been involved in disability sport for many years including playing at a high level in wheelchair rugby and now as a team GB T52 Wheelchair racer. We understand the training and levels to which our products need to perform to enable users to push themselves to the limit to achieve these levels of performance.
Our mission is to reach and help more and more people with hand function disabilities to enable them to take part in numerous activities as independently as possible. We pride ourselves in working with those with hand functions across a wide spectrum of disabilities and activity levels from Paralympic gold medal winners to leisure gardeners and from injured military personnel to small children. We know from our own experience how frustrating a lack of hand function can be. Hopefully with Active Hands helping you, you can overcome many of those frustrations enabling you to do activities that you previously thought were impossible. Who knows what you could achieve…
This brand was started by a man who was disabled himself. He developed tools for himself to help accomplish different tasks, and his other disabled friends started to ask for the tools he designed. I think that to start a business designing for disabled people, you must rely on the creativity of those who struggle everyday. From all of my research, I have seen the innovations that disabled people create in order to function in an ableist world, and its a huge opportunity.