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David Constantine MBE: oration

Read Professor Gareth Jones' oration on David Constantine for the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in November 2016.


David Constantine
David Constantine

Vice-Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce to you David Constantine MBE, the co-founder and director of Motivation, a charity which has set up projects all over the world to improve the quality of life for people with mobility disabilities. Since its formation, Motivation has helped tens of thousands of people change their lives for the better.

David’s career started out in a very different direction. He originally planned to pursue a career in agriculture but, while travelling around Australia in 1982, he suffered a broken neck which left him paralysed from the neck down. After ten months in hospital, he swapped his agricultural ambitions for a career in IT with IBM. While working at IBM, he met a group of industrial designers in a meeting which inspired him to return to education and to pursue a creative career.

In 1988, David took up a place on the Product Design course at the Royal College of Art in London. There, he and fellow student Simon Gue responded to a challenge to design a wheelchair suitable for use in developing countries. Their design, which was robust enough to tackle rugged terrain and potholes, yet simple enough to be made from affordable local materials, won the Frye Memorial Prize.

The pair teamed up with a friend, Richard Frost, and used their prize money to travel to Bangladesh to see how their wheelchair might work. They visited the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Dhaka, where they found a workshop making copies of an old Evans and Sutherland folding wheelchair from the 1930’s. These were completely unsuitable for the users, the terrain or the local materials. David and Simon built a copy of their chair for local testing - the Centre was so impressed with the results that they asked David and Simon to help set up large-scale production.

After completion of their studies in London, David and the team raised funding, set up Motivation and returned to Bangladesh to produce their new chair. They refined its design to encourage better posture and sourced more appropriate materials to ensure that the chair could be maintained and repaired locally.

Over the next 25 years, Motivation set up similar projects in eighteen countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, and changed the lives of countless wheelchair users, often the poorest of the poor, lifting them out of poverty, allowing them to go to school or earn a living and play an active role in their societies.

In 2004, Motivation developed a new approach which allowed them to reach more of the estimated 100 million people worldwide who need a wheelchair. A chair was designed that could be manufactured in China, flat packed, then shipped around the world as a kit of parts to be assembled and fitted to individual users by local partners. As a result of this new supply model, more than tens of thousands lives have now been changed.

Under David’s leadership, Motivation has become internationally recognised as a leader in designing, producing, and distributing high-quality, low-cost wheelchairs for developing countries. They have advised the WHO and helped to develop global standards for wheelchair design and provision. They have also developed a range of low-cost sports chairs for the International Paralympic Committee that have enabled hundreds of disabled people to take up sport for the first time.

The above represents only a fraction of what David has achieved. He travels extensively around the world, giving inspirational talks and lectures on the subject of disability. He is a trustee of numerous organisations, including the Design Museum, and is an advisor to the International Society for Prosthetics & Orthotics. He is an award-winning travel photographer and has exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Geographical Society.

David is a designer whose talent and determination have either saved or dramatically improved the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world. He is an inspiring example to us all.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you David Constantine MBE DL who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Engineering honoris causa.

Professor Gareth Jones

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