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.
I hate uncomfortable clothing and have never understood the ‘hurts to be beautiful’ adage. Anything (pants, underpants, socks, whatever) I put on that bunches, creeps, or stretches too tight during my usual day of biking, walking, playing, and working will quickly find its way to the local thrift store!
Much of Western fashion tends to be designed for standing bodies without much consideration for people using mobility devices like wheelchairs and often favours form over function and comfort, too. I have to admit that in the past I didn’t think about how most of the clothing sold today would be SO uncomfortable for people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. I should have figured this out sooner, as I know that certain clothes do not translate well when I ride my bike – shirts that are too short and low cut pants mean my back ‘bits’ are routinely exposed to the elements!
I saw her show “Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting,” at the ROM last summer and was blown away by how beautiful–and sexy–the clothing is. It really inspired me to think critically about the relationship between fashion, mobility, and accessibility. It’s not surprising at all that her exhibit won The Richard Martin Exhibition Award by unanimous decision!
Others tackling this issue include Gary Markle and Glen Hougan from NSCAD University who is working on a clothing line that meets the needs of older people as well as those with mobility challenges. The line is called ‘Worn Well’ and is concerned with designing for dignity for a population often unconsidered in the fashion market. Read more about the clothing line project here.
This Iraq war veteran is giving back to his community in an incredible way. After coming up with the clever idea of attaching a snow blade onto his wheelchair, Justin hit the nearby streets to help make the sidewalks safer for his neighbourhood during the winter.
“I had about half a dozen people stop me and ask if they could take a picture because they had never seen … a chair like this before.”
What’s particularly awesome about his pimped out ride is the way that it challenges other people’s typical perceptions of individuals using mobility aids and devices. Instead of Justin being dependent on others, the members of his community become dependent on him to perform this service. Way to go!
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.
Hung Ho, a retired computer programmer, ingeniously reinvented his wheelchair! Equipped with a basket, welded bicycle tire, handlebars, and a headlight, Hung is cruising the city streets like no other.
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 –
1. It’s the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who! The long running BBC science fiction tv series about the adventures of a time-traveling humanoid alien known as the Doctor. My brother and I seriously loved this show when we were kids – it has great characters and some seriously creative low-tech special effects!
2. Dr. Who travels in this super cool ship – the TARDIS – a time machine that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
The TARDIS used from 2005 to 2010
3. It was Halloween a few weeks ago and I’ve started to notice an awesome trend toward Wheelchair Costumes (what a great idea!). There are lots of great ones out there, but one of my all time favourites is from the UK of Dr. Who and his TARDIS!
With their body as the joystick, these hands free wheelchairs allow dancers with disabilities to soar –
Dancer Merry Lynn Morris teaching one of her students in the hands free wheelchair – that expression says its all…
The soul of the chair comes from Morris experience with her father who was in a wheelchair. Finding it difficult to get close to him, to hug him, she felt the chair ‘caged in’ her father. Combined with her passion for dance, Morris later began to re-imagine a hands free wheelchair that was more ‘open’ to the world.
The science of this chair – which is controlled by the body – comes from a collaboration with a team of engineers at the University of South California –
The potential of this – of hands free chairs that respond to the body and are designed in a way that facilitates interaction and inclusivity (physically and socially) – blows my mind! Bring it on!
Arguing the now 45 year old symbol for accessiblity is neither inclusive nor welcoming, last week the Honorourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario joined OCAD University to launch Reimagining Accessibility, an international student design challenge to replace the traditional wheelchair sign with a more encompassing and inclusive symbol (or symbols) of accessibility.
Onley, himself in a motorized scooter, challenged post-secondary students to “turbo-charge blue wheelie into the 21st century” by designing a symbol that lets people know “no matter your access needs, you are welcome here”.
Hear hear I agree! That stationary stick figure just doesn’t reflect the lives and dreams of the many people I’ve met with disabilities. We can do better, the possibilities are endless, and I can’t wait to see what the students come up with!