Category Archives: Projects

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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Filed under Accessibility, Articles, Barriers, Design, DIY, invention, Mobility Aids, Posts, Projects, Wheelchairs

“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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Filed under Accessibility, Articles, Barriers, Design, invention, Mobility Aids, Posts, Projects, Sports

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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Filed under Accessibility, Design, Inspirational, invention, Mobility Aids, Personal Stories, Photos, Posts, Projects, Recreation, Videos

Reimagining Accessibility Design Challenge launched – and about time!

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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!

The  competition is open from now until October 25. Winners will be announced on November 1 in the presence of Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex, who will be visiting Ontario. The final designs will be presented to the International Standards Organization for consideration.

A first prize of $5,000 will be awarded, along with two honourable mentions of $2,500 each.

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Personalized Prosthetics – What’s your fancy?

Video: Woman builds prosthetic leg out of Lego - The Globe and Mail

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”.

Floral SocketChrystalized LegPersonalized prosthetics, like personalized mobility devices, not only delight the eye, they help to break down social barriers by promoting conversation, admiration and interest. 

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Filed under Articles, Barriers, Design, DIY, Inspirational, Personal Stories, personalizing, Photos, Posts, Projects, Uncategorized, Videos

Good Design Meets People IN their Lives

Mosses, Uganda

Mosses, Uganda

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.

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Art-a-Ride ~ Creating personalized wheelchair experiences

Benja loved showing off his newly pimped up chair to his friends. He now has a dragon snake tattooed all around that opens its mouth as the wheels turn, and several customized-by-friends accessories using velcro, and other material, enriching his wheelchair experience! His mom simply posted a message on Facebook saying “I’m starting a new project for Benja’s b’day, want to contribute to an art-a-ride project?”. It’s this simple and easy, help us spread the word.

Art-a-Ride connects creative people with kids with disabilities to turn their factory looking – medicalized – wheelchairs that highlight their limitations, into interesting, meaningful, and in the case of Benja here – super cool – “rides”.

The final co-creations, according to founder Eva de Lera, have a profound impact on the kids, their lives, and the lives of their families.  How amazing!

I’ve talked about this before, personalizing mobility aids is a form of self-expression that is not only good for our health and the health of those around us, its also really fun!

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Softwalks: Turning Scaffolding into Pop-up Parks with Resting Places

This start up has ALL the right ideas! Scaffolding is not only UGLY, it creates significant barriers for people with mobility challenges including older folks, people with disabilities and parents with strollers. I lived in NYC for 5 years and would avoid sidewalks lined with scaffolding whenever possible because it was so unpleasant and felt even scary and dangerous sometimes. Resting places like these are essential for those of us who can’t quite ‘make it all the way’ and health-promoting for all of us as they provide opportunities for social interaction. Way to go SOFTWALKS!

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