Category Archives: Mobility Aids
3D printing technology has made great strides over the past several years, and a project from Layer Design recently caught my interest.
The project, GO, is the world’s first partially 3D printed wheelchair. This made-to-measure 3D printed wheelchair is specifically designed to fit the individual needs of a wide range of disabilities and lifestyles.
The GO leaves behind the medical appearance of current wheelchairs and replaces it with a cleaner, sleeker aesthetic that allows for size variation in a more stylish form. How do they do it? Individuals use an accompanying app to enter personal biometric information to create a “perfect fitting chair.” The seat and foot bay are later created using 3D printing technology based on that information. Check it out in the video below – in addition to the chairs, there is a super cool bike frame.
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.
Whether you’ve got a bike, scooter, walker or wheelchair, duct tape is a seriously cheap and fast way to personalize any ride. No longer limited to that traditional grey, this strong adhesive product now comes in like a bazillion varieties of colours and sizes!
Duck Tape has leveraged the versatility of their brand to meet the needs of a growing number of DIY’s (do-it-yourselfers). They have a massive selection for people to choose from for repairs, crafts, labeling and decorating purposes. You can buy transparent tints, mini-rolls, sheets, and specialty duct tape—even scented and glow-in-the-dark products now exist!
Using duct tape as a tool for personalization is both accessible and affordable and the fact that is so durable and waterproof is an added bonus. I recently came across these sweet rides that were decorated with duct tape – check them out!
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.
Cyclists 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.
“I don’t dress to be stared at. I dress for myself.” – Iris Apfel
Meet Iris Apfel.
Iris is a highly successful and eccentric 94-year-young American businesswoman, interior designer, and fashion icon who has recently gained celebrity fame. Iris is also the founder of Old World Weavers, a textile company that she launched with her late husband Carl Apfel. Through their textile business, they travelled around the world and participated in unique design restoration processes, including work on the White House for several presidents. Her bold approach to layering big jewelry and her oversized round glasses make a lasting iconic impression that landed her a star role in a documentary by Albert Maysles about her incredible life and career.
I recently watched this delightful documentary – Iris – which included several segments of Iris using mobility devices including a cane, walker and wheelchair.
What struck me immediately when viewing these segments was the stark contrast between Iris’s ‘over the top’ accessorizing – on herself, her house and even her husband and the mobility aids that were left completely untouched! Not a splash of colour, not a jewel or bead, nothing… I have to admit I was disappointed… and couldn’t help thinking, “REALLY?! IRIS?!! You of all the people would have the know how to “pimp your ride”!
Unconsidered OR Unacceptable?
I believe one of two things are going on here. Either,
- These devices are ‘unconsidered’ – i.e., it doesn’t occur to Iris (or those around her) that it’s even an option to accessorize these devices…or, and I imagine more likely…
- The devices are ‘unacceptable’ – meaning Iris (like others) just can’t reconcile herself with these medicalized impersonal machines and as such wants to distance herself from them. The way these devices look, feel and are understood in our culture in other words, is completely unacceptable to Iris and as such she does not want them to – in any way- be a part of her.
“There’s no how-to road map to style. It’s about self-expression and, above all, attitude.” – Iris Apfel
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.
Every two years, a major contemporary art exhibition – The Venice Biennale – takes place in Venice, Italy with specific events for art, contemporary dance, architecture, cinema and theatre. At this year’s exhibition, one artist’s extraordinary work re-created a traditional assistive device using razor blades. Tayeba Begum Lipi, born in Gaibandha, Bangladesh, is known for creating paintings, prints, videos, and sculptures that articulate themes of female marginality and the female body. While many of her sculptural works purposefully use unexpected materials to speak primarily to the violence facing women in Bangladesh, her razor blade wheelchairs showcased at this year’s Biennale inspire an view on disability.
This piece – simultaneously beautiful and dangerous – reflects the challenges those with disabilities face daily in a world that continues to embrace ableist assumptions and beliefs. Looking at the detail of the piece I feel its message… when our society marginalizes people with disabilities, it perpetuates a kind of slow violence that will ultimately, destroy us all ~ as Emma Lazarus explains “Until we are all free, none of us are free”.
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!
How does all this fit together?
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.
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!