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INSPIRED Design

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.

 

 

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Re-imagining mobility

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!

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“Pimp My Zimmer”!?

Care home residents across Britain are partnering with local schoolchildren to decorate their walkers.  The festive makeovers are part of a project called “Pimp My Zimmer,” which aims to reduce falls in care homes. People with dementia sometimes have difficulty recognizing their own frames, so the personalization of devices helps residents remember to use them. One care home even claims the project has reduced falls by 60%! Check it out here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/health-42284621/pimp-my-zimmer-project-reduces-falls

‘Why are all walking frames grey?’Angela Donlevy, manager at Chalkney House care home in White Colne, wondered to herself… Shortly after, this project was born and they started seeing results.

“About a year ago I woke up after having a vivid dream about walking frames and I remember asking myself why they were all grey. Suddenly it occurred to me that brighter colours would be more recognisable to people with cognitive impairments such as dementia.” – Angela Donlevy

I always get really excited when I see people “pimp their rides”. In my own research, I’ve found people do this for fun, function (including safety) and fashion.  This project brings to light some additional benefits that the personalization of assistive devices can have in certain settings (such as reducing falls for residents with dementia). AWESOME!

Want to see more cool personalized devices? Head over to my “I like your ride!” page to meet some fantastic people and their amazing personalized mobile creations, here.

Keep moving!

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A bit SHOUT – OUT to Tetra’s Volunteers!

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/.

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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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Reimagining Disability Through Art

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 DisArtSiTE: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

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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!

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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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Business makes getting around town easy, affordable and fun! SMART

These happy guys (my brother in laws father and his brother) were able to do some sightseeing together in their hometown Winchester, England thanks to the service known as ShopMobility.

The Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland established this service 12 years ago to make it easier for people with limited mobility to access shopping centres and other facilities. It’s offered at a small charge, currently £4 per day in England, though the price varies depending on the location.

bumper-carsHow do they do it? ShopMobility lends manual and powered wheelchairs, as well as powered scooters, to members of the public who have limited mobility. This service gives people of any age the opportunity to visit leisure and commercial facilities in a town, city, or shopping centre.

What’s particularly great about this service is the fact that you don’t have to be registered as “disabled” to use it. Anyone with limited mobility, whether it’s due to a temporary or permanent impairment, can use the service. They just want to give people the freedom to move around.

Services like ShopMobility help promote a culture of inclusivity, equality, and accessibility. Check em out next time you’re in England and lets hope to see this idea spreading across other communities soon!

 

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Rolling with “Grit”

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!

GritRolling 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?

gritIn 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.

 

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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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