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 passionate persistence. 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!
Technological innovation and advancement is helping us to re-imagine assistive devices in our everyday lives as new designs challenging previous limitations in amazing ways!
In 2013, a focus group of seven mechanical engineers and one electrical engineer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland teamed up with two industrial designers from Industrial Design at Zurich University of the Arts to create a wheelchair unlike any other. Adopting Beni Winter’s idea of creating a robot that climbed stairs, the team worked together to create a wheelchair that could do the same thing.
Electrically powered and strategically designed, this incredible piece of technology can climb stairs and possesses the ability to balance on two wheels to keep the occupant level at all times. VERY cool! See it for yourself!
Another great example of innovative technology that challenges us to re-imagine the scopes of assistive devices is Patrick Dougherty’s invention known as the “FreeWheel“. Slightly less complicated than the previous example, the FreeWheel is an attachment that makes navigating certain terrains substantially easier in a wheelchair. The foldable, removable wheel attachment significantly expands the user’s scope of movement, allowing them to travel through gravel, over grass, and even persevere through the snowy sidewalks during the winter. The FreeWheel is helping re-define what it means to live an active life in a wheelchair.
These are great innovations however research and innovation costs money, and high price tags can pose a huge obstacle for a lot of people. Which brings us back to the real barrier for people with disabilities ~ society’s inability and unwillingness to provide fully accessible environments for all citizens.
Sara Hendren’s a ROCKSTAR! An artist, writer, activist, and design researcher – Sara creates and writes about adaptive and assistive technologies, prosthetics, inclusive design, and accessible architecture from a critical disability perspective. Her projects include the Accessible Icon Project a grassroots initiative that provides supplies and services to transform the original International Symbol of Access into this active, engaged image –
In an interview with the Atlantic, Sara explains why we need to stop using the terminology ASSISTIVE technology and instead call “adaptive devices” what they are – TECHNOLOGY –
“Scholars and people who are activists for disability rights have spent a lot of energy in the last decades showing that disability is not about the state of a human body; it’s about the built environment, structures, and institutions that make life possible and meaningful—or conversely, impossible and meager—for certain kinds of bodies and minds. In other words, disability studies has worked to transition an understanding of disability from a “medical model” to a “social model.” A social model of disability opens up the discussion to consider how design and technologies might be re-imagined for all kinds of bodies, not “assigned” to those with medicalized conditions.
By returning “assistive technology” to its rightful place as just “technology”—no more, no less—we start to understand that all bodies are getting assistance, all the time. And then design for everyone becomes much more interesting.”
Sara has a blog Abler where she tracks and comments on art, adaptive technologies and prosthetics, the future of human bodies in the built environment, and related ideas. She also runs works on lots of other cool projects including designing ramps for skateboarders and wheelchair users –
See what I mean? ROCKSTAR!
Occupational therapist Christina Stephens designed and built her own lego leg – Cool! You can watch how she does this in her time-lapse video that went viral this past summer –
Personalized prosthetics serve many purposes beyond function – not only can they get people where they need to go, they do so with style, with fun, with flare, and yes with FASHION. Check out the ‘alternative limb project’ where consumers are participants in the design process selecting pieces that either “blend in with the body or stand out as unique pieces of art, reflecting the wearers imagination, personality, and interests”.
Personalized prosthetics, like personalized mobility devices, not only delight the eye, they help to break down social barriers by promoting conversation, admiration and interest.
Filed under Articles, Barriers, Design, DIY, Inspirational, Personal Stories, personalizing, Photos, Posts, Projects, Uncategorized, Videos
“A lot of people think of the wheelchair as a medical instrument,” says Aaron Fatheringham a young man born with spina bifida who ‘tricked out’ his chair to accommodate his passion for extreme sports “I think that’s wrong. You know, why not think of it as something fun?”.
Good design meets people within the context of their lives. It prioritizes the social as well as the physical circumstances and needs of the individual.
The folks at Motivation – an international development charity supporting people with mobility disabilities – get this. With a focus on SURVIVAL, MOBILITY, EMPOWERMENT, and INCLUSION, they design and distribute high-quality, low-cost wheelchairs, tricycles and supportive seating products specifically for use in developing countries.
In North America we spend a lot of time and resources developing mobility devices that function – mechanically – really well. We spend far less time however, considering how well these same devices function within the social and cultural spaces of people’s lives. There is much we can learn from organizations like Motivation.