In the west German town of Hanau, you can see vibrant little bricks of Lego brightening the doorways of various shops and cafes across the square thanks to Rita Ebel.
The 62-year old was inspired to make her community more accessible after learning that her friend, who is also in a wheelchair, needed to enlist the help of 4 people to carry her chair out of a shop because it had steps.
In collaboration with the town’s integration initiative, ‘People in Hanau’, and willing public businesses, Rita and her husband have been on a personal mission to help make their town barrier-free. Her volunteer activism has earned herself the cheeky nickname “Lego Grandma”.
The colourful low-tech high-fun solution has a brilliant value-add: it catches the attention of onlookers of all ages raising people’s awareness of inaccessible buildings and mobility barriers. And it’s not just wheelchair users who benefit – the colourful ramps also help people with walkers, strollers, and visual impairments.
Rita’s mission is to sensitize the world to barrier-free travel and emphasize the importance of accessible spaces.
“There’s a healing within coming to a beach and I think everyone across Canada can relate to it,” (Rose Mary MacDonald, IDA’s vice-president).
I’m back in Nova Scotia for the summer and, as always, inspired by the kind of work that happens here. One of the real gifts of the east coast is the beaches – and while they’re beautiful restorative energizing places for many of us – beaches are (still) NOT available to all of us (which is *&$^%#!). But this is changing… On Inverness Beach in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, sand is no longer a barrier for those with mobility challenges.
The Inverness Development Association and the Inverness County Accessibility Committee are working together to make the beach more accessible by investing in some beach-friendly wheelchairs, blue mats leading from the boardwalk to the water’s edge, and some floating chairs.
These blue mats provide a path from the boardwalk to the water’s edge on Inverness Beach, making it easier to walk and push other accessible equipment. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)
Photo by: Kayla Hounsell/CBC
Christine Hannigan says it will be much easier to get to the beach now. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)
Two of the beach-friendly wheelchairs, mats that make it easier to walk on the sand and two floating chairs that allow people to go in the water. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)
This equipment is all part of a larger project to make the Inverness Beach fully accessible including ramps and accessible parking spaces and bathrooms to provide the “whole [accessibility] package”. It’s the first beach to do so along Atlantic Canada and I hope it prompts others to do the same – come on lets do this!
Products for people with disabilities were once uninspired. Not anymore. – Michael Kimmelman, New York Times
Mobility devices and other products made for people with different physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities have historically been ugly, feebly designed, and stigmatizing. These products are often designed by engineers without the input of consumers living with disabilities who use them.
The “Access+Ability” exhibition at the Smithsonian Design Museum, organized by Cara McCarty and Rochelle Steiner, makes plain why design matters for mobility devices.
There has been a surge of design with and by people with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities. Fueled by advances in research, technology, and fabrication, this proliferation of functional, life-enhancing products is creating unprecedented access in homes, schools, workplaces, and the world at large. Access+Ability features over 70 innovative designs developed in the last decade. From low-tech products that assist with daily routines to the newest technologies, the exhibition explores how users and designers are expanding and adapting accessible products and solutions in ways previously unimaginable.
The Access+Ability exhibit demonstrates a shift in the way we think about designing with diversity and inclusion in mind. With approximately 1 in 7 adults having a disability in Canada, there’s merit in investing time and effort into designs that make specialty items easier to use–not to mention fun, cool, and beautiful. Products that have a “medical” aesthetic carry stigma – the move to more “de-medicalized” devices would help to address this.
RAH to those who can visit the Smithsonian Design Museum to see the show. I haven’t seen it in person yet but making a plan to get there before it closes on September 3rd, 2018.
This wheelchair navigates rough, unpaved, and uneven terrain, specifically in the developing world where the ground may be mud or sand. The three rather than four wheels provide extra Access+Ability stability when pushing, propelling, and even tipping around obstacles.
The Mobi electric folding wheelchair designed by Jack Martinich at Monash University is re-imagining mobility in an exciting new way.
Unlike traditional wheelchairs that (by their cumbersome, medicalized and rigid design) say “I don’t travel” “I don’t need to get around in poorly designed spaces” and “I am not worthy of sexy design” the Mobi electric folding wheelchair is actually designed to meet the lifestyle requirements of anyone who uses it – and looks FUN too!
This wheelchair offers a convenient alternative to the traditional wheelchair and bulky electric scooters. The chair features a special folding mechanism that allows it to be folded, stored, and transported in a vehicle without having to disassemble it.
What’s more, the ingenious design encourages user independence and promotes physical activity with the use of force sensors in the hand rims. When the user pushes on the hand rims to move, these sensors detect the physical exertion and add additional power to the wheels to make movement easier, similar to power steering in a car.
This wheelchair taps into a kind of versatility, ease, and lightness that’s unparalleled to traditional manual models and has the potential to break down barriers more than ever before. There’s a sort of playfulness in the colour and design that I like, too!
Unfortunately, this wheelchair is only a concept right now, but I’m looking forward to seeing this concept become a reality in the future!
Back in January, I wrote about the awesome TetraNation. In case you missed it, they’re a volunteer-led community of engineers and technically-minded people who help invent some pretty creative mobility solutions for people living with disabilities.
To celebrate their 30th anniversary and the great work of their dedicated volunteers, Tetra is holding a contest to showcase Tetra projects from chapters across the country!
Our world isn’t always built with accessibility in mind, and mobility devices (particularly those that are customized/personalized) are often really expensive. That’s what’s so amazing about these projects: they hinge on a DIY foundation to make accessible adaptations affordable AND individually tailored.
I’d like to give a huge shout-out to all of TetraNation’s incredible volunteers for making a real difference in people’s lives for three decades. THANK YOU!
Voting will be open until March 31, so check out the videos that have been posted so far and get INSPIRED! You can vote here: http://tetranation.org/video/.
Taking a ride with some of my favorite passengers – my sis, mother-in-law and partner
Transportation challenges are rooted in a variety of social and political environments.
Take for example, the need for safe and reliable transportation for students in Detroit to get to after-school tutoring and education programming (offered by the nonprofit learning hub 826 Michigan).
Regardless of the ‘problem,’ to my mind innovation and creativity and FUN are the ‘best practices’ for addressing them.
For example, check out Dave Eggers solution – with fabrication support from Juan Martinez and the help of metal artist Ben Wolf and the San Francisco art production shop Gizmo, Eggers created a small herd of animal-inspired vehicles. Focussing on the intersection of transportation and education to build awareness AND present solutions to these challenges the herd was recently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) where I had a chance to try them out.
These mobility devices are beautifully crafted with the safety of students in mind. But what is best about them, of course, is how fun they are! Can you imagine how unbelievably cool and exciting it would be to ride to an after school education program in this thing?
This project reminds me of the Fun Theory. Believing that the easiest way to change things is by making it simple and fun, Volkswagen’s Fun Theory has inspired some amazing designs like the Piano Stairs. It’s a classic and one of my personal favorites!
Eggers’ animal-inspired vehicles, the Piano Stairs and other innovations like these are great examples of how “fun” can be used to address physical and social concerns.
Last fall I attended ArtPrize, a supercool festival that turns three square miles of downtown Grand Rapids into a giant gallery of art. My fav was a collaborative DisArt – SiTE:LAB exhibit (see photos below).
DisArt and SiTE:LAB are working together to create art experiences that transcend normal expectations of audience, space, and design. HYBRID STRUCTURES is an invitation to see and experience reality differently. As an experiment of accessibility and inclusion, the ramp demonstrates that art has a powerful role to play in the way we view abilities and disabilities of all types. It is our hope that the experience of being on top of HYBRID STRUCTURES transforms access itself into an art form by celebrating architecture that welcomes all users.
– Curatorial Statement
I followed up my visit with some more research on DisArt. Their aim is to change perceptions about disability (and accessibility) through art. They’re driven by the belief that communities are stronger when they intentionally include and recognize the gifts and talents of persons living with disabilities, and their artistic projects help increase the visibility of people with disabilities.
What’s particularly cool about this ramp is the way that it gets transformed into the stage for SiTE:LAB’s ELEVATE: A DisArt Fashion Show. This fashion show pushes expectations of design and fashion in hopes of redefining sentiments of style, access, and bodies. It celebrates disability, inclusivity, movement, and art. Check out the highlights from 2016 (which I sadly missed seeing in person)! It’s awesome!
For 30 years, the Tetra Society of North America has been helping remedy real life problems for people with disabilities by creating customized assistive devices. Their primary goal is to reduce societal and environmental barriers through the creation of these devices while increasing independence for their clients in the process.
This nonprofit organization recruits skilled volunteers who are dedicated to fulfilling the unique—and sometimes challenging—requests that they receive. The projects they take on tackle barriers to mobility, personal care, and communications. They also help provide increased access within households and communities so that individuals can lead more independent lives. Depending on their needs, requests submitted by Tetra clients vary in complexity.
For example, one request was for a client with Cerebral Palsy looking to go on a long distance trip with their son on a plane. They were unable to sit in a regular plane seat, so they reached out to Tetra’s group of expert volunteers to see if anyone could build an exact replica of the client’s seating system that would allow them to travel by plane.
Another request was from a gentleman looking for assistance modifying his walker to include a semi-seat or hip support system to make walking easier (image to the right demonstrates suggested modifications).
Anyone can request assistance from their local Tetra chapter (there are 45 across Canada and the USA). When Tetra receives a request, they forward the general information to their cohort of volunteers to see if anyone is able to work on the project! I recently signed up to receive requests as part of Tetra Toronto.
Independence is linked to mobility, and it’s great to see an organization (and so many hardworking volunteers) coming together to address the mobility needs of members in their communities. According to their website, Tetra Society has completed 5,000 projects since they started up (many of which can be found and viewed via their online database).
More videos like the one featured above can also be viewed on their website here.
What happens when you give three Los Angeles residents in wheelchairs video cameras to document their daily lives? A genius film providing caregivers, policy makers, health care professionals—and everyone else—the opportunity to see what the world is like through their eyes, that’s what!
Rolling is a patient-centered documentary by Dr. Gretchen Berland that offers an honest, eye-opening look at the daily challenges of living with limited mobility. LA residents Galen Buckwalter, Ernie Wallengren, and Vicki Elman spent nearly two years capturing 212 hours of footage on cameras mounted to their chairs.
It’s often easy to overlook the “small” challenges in our built environments – a raised surface outside the front door, an elevator under maintenance in a subway station, or a crumbling sidewalk on the way to your favourite café. While unconsidered by many, for others these are daily frustrations. I can’t imagine how exhausting – physically and emotionally – it would be to have to deal with this *&^$%#*@& every day! What is it that makes people facing these or other challenges on a daily basis get up every day and not only get on with their day but flourish?
In her book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth explains the secret to outstanding achievement, and it’s not talent (like you might expect). Instead, she describes the secret to success as passionatepersistence. I couldn’t help but notice parallels between grit and the three individuals in Rolling. All three clearly and repeatedly demonstrate the grit that Duckworth describes as they passionately persist and resist the social messaging and identities assigned to them.
Imagine arriving at a location labeled as ‘accessible’, only to discover there’s a step or ridge leading to the front door obstructing your entry. Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar to people with disabilities.
Tackling this problem head on is Ryerson student Maayan Ziv.
Watch her interview with GlobalTV to see her talk about this great initiative by clicking this photo.
Maayan used her expertise in Digital Media to create an app that allows users to browse an interactive map to discover accessible places around the world. The mobile app, AccessNow, uses crowdsourcing (like Wikipedia) to collect information and rate locations based on people’s accessibility requirements. Locations are marked with colour-coded pins to show the degree of accessibility ranging from accessible, partially accessible, patio access only, and not accessible at all.
Maayan is passionate about creating a more accessible world and this app is a huge step in the right direction!