Category Archives: invention

The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels

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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.

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TETRA – Volunteers working WITH people to CUSTOMIZE assistive devices according to THEIR needs

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.

hip-supportFor 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.

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“Designing for Dignity” – Tackling the Ableist and Ageist Fashion Industry

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!

IMG_8790Much 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!

This is why I’ve been so inspired by Izzy Camilleri’s work, particularly her “Designs for Sitting”.

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.

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Now you see me! Product promotes safety while elevating cool status!

It is estimated that 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured in Canada each year and one-third of cyclist deaths occur during the night. What if there was a way to make yourself more visible on the road? Volvo’s got you covered!

Volvo recently released a video promoting their new product – LifePaint – a unique reflective safety spray designed to make it hard to miss riders on the road at night. This spray is invisible during the day and glows brightly in the glare of car headlights at night making the invisible, visible. The added bonus is that it washes off, doesn’t alter fabric colours or surfaces, and lasts up to one week after application.

LifePaintCyclists aren’t the only ones in danger on the road.  LifePaint can be used on ANY mobility device including kids scooters, skateboards, motorized scooters, and wheelchairs. The goal is to make road safety accessible for everyone – and this seems like a really fun way to do that! You can buy this product at any Volvo Cars retailer.

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AccessNow, the new app on the block

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!

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“ALL technology is assistive technology” ~ Sara Hendren

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 –

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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 –

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See what I mean? ROCKSTAR!

 

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From the mind of a dancer comes a new kind of wheelchair

With their body as the joystick, these hands free wheelchairs allow dancers with disabilities to soar –

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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 –

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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!

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Portable mats make beaches accessible – about time!

Now here’s a COOL design for those HOT summer days! Mobi-mats are lightweight, durable, portable mats that can be rolled out onto sandy beaches making them accessible to wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers.

Mobi-mats in action at Rockaway Beach NYC

These mats are being used on beaches around the world including Rockaway Beach in New York and beaches in Rio de Janeiro.

Recently, Wasaga Beach just outside of Toronto purchased some mobi-mats making their beach one of the most accessible in the province. CBC Metro Morning interviewed town clerk  Twyla Nicholson about the town councils decision to purchase the mats, and the impact its having on residents and visitors to the beach.

Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch pushes Frank Nunnaro, Wasaga Beach resident and Accessibility Advisory Committee member, down the new Mobi-mats towards the water at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, July 11, 2013

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Chinese DIY Inventors ROCK!

These inventions are incredible! Why? Because they are based on lived experiences (like old age) and needs (like the need to get out of a building fast). Because they function so well for the places and activities of daily life. AND because they are so beautiful! The combination wheelchair foldable bike is genius (exercise for the caregiver)! And who doesn’t want (need) a bike that is able to carry us over water as well as land as we commute to work? And that evacuation slide? It’s a work of art! Wouldn’t it be awesome in the MOMA?

83-year-old Zhang Yongqing shows off his invention, a combination of a wheelchair and foldable bicycle.  Zhang said he invented the multifunctional bicycle so that care-givers can take better care of wheelchair-bound elderly people.

Lei Zhiqian rides a modified bicycle across the Hanjiang River. The bicycle, equipped with eight empty water containers at the bottom, was modified by Lei’s instructor Li Weiguo, who hopes to put his invention into the market.

70-year-old inventor Zhou Miaorong tries out an evacuation slide he built himself in a building in Shanghai,. Zhou took over two years to design and build the mechanical slide which uses no electricity to implement in a domino effect, while also triggering a sprinkler system to fight a fire. 

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