In the west German town of Hanau, you can see vibrant little bricks of Lego brightening the doorways of various shops and cafes across the square thanks to Rita Ebel.
The 62-year old was inspired to make her community more accessible after learning that her friend, who is also in a wheelchair, needed to enlist the help of 4 people to carry her chair out of a shop because it had steps.
In collaboration with the town’s integration initiative, ‘People in Hanau’, and willing public businesses, Rita and her husband have been on a personal mission to help make their town barrier-free. Her volunteer activism has earned herself the cheeky nickname “Lego Grandma”.
The colourful low-tech high-fun solution has a brilliant value-add: it catches the attention of onlookers of all ages raising people’s awareness of inaccessible buildings and mobility barriers. And it’s not just wheelchair users who benefit – the colourful ramps also help people with walkers, strollers, and visual impairments.
Rita’s mission is to sensitize the world to barrier-free travel and emphasize the importance of accessible spaces.
“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!
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!
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/.
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.
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!
Rolling 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?
In 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 passionatepersistence. 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.
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!
Much 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!
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.
In 2013 I wrote a post about personalized prosthetics, where occupational therapist Christina Stephens designed and built her own Lego leg. Lego’s most recent contribution to the toy world is making a huge impact around the globe.
At the end of January, Lego unveiled its first minifigure using a mobility device at the Nuremberg toy fair. The one inch tall plastic figure is a part of a “Fun in the Park” set, which will be available for purchase in June, and is the first of its kind (despite having produced approximately 600 billion Lego pieces to date).
Though only one inch tall, this minifigure sends a commanding message of inclusion and has the power to influence our cultural perceptions, which is why Lego fans, parents, and disability groups are celebrating. It may have taken over 60 years to get here and he’s just a little dude, still this represents something much BIGGER!
This Iraq war veteran is giving back to his community in an incredible way. After coming up with the clever idea of attaching a snow blade onto his wheelchair, Justin hit the nearby streets to help make the sidewalks safer for his neighbourhood during the winter.
“I had about half a dozen people stop me and ask if they could take a picture because they had never seen … a chair like this before.”
What’s particularly awesome about his pimped out ride is the way that it challenges other people’s typical perceptions of individuals using mobility aids and devices. Instead of Justin being dependent on others, the members of his community become dependent on him to perform this service. Way to go!