“There’s a healing within coming to a beach and I think everyone across Canada can relate to it,” (Rose Mary MacDonald, IDA’s vice-president).
I’m back in Nova Scotia for the summer and, as always, inspired by the kind of work that happens here. One of the real gifts of the east coast is the beaches – and while they’re beautiful restorative energizing places for many of us – beaches are (still) NOT available to all of us (which is *&$^%#!). But this is changing… On Inverness Beach in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, sand is no longer a barrier for those with mobility challenges.
The Inverness Development Association and the Inverness County Accessibility Committee are working together to make the beach more accessible by investing in some beach-friendly wheelchairs, blue mats leading from the boardwalk to the water’s edge, and some floating chairs.
These blue mats provide a path from the boardwalk to the water’s edge on Inverness Beach, making it easier to walk and push other accessible equipment. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)
Photo by: Kayla Hounsell/CBC
Christine Hannigan says it will be much easier to get to the beach now. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)
Two of the beach-friendly wheelchairs, mats that make it easier to walk on the sand and two floating chairs that allow people to go in the water. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)
This equipment is all part of a larger project to make the Inverness Beach fully accessible including ramps and accessible parking spaces and bathrooms to provide the “whole [accessibility] package”. It’s the first beach to do so along Atlantic Canada and I hope it prompts others to do the same – come on lets do this!
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/.
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.
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 –
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!
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.
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.