Dozens of stores in Rita Ebel’s hometown of Hanau now use Lego ramps to ease entry for wheelchair users. Photo credit: REUTERS
“This is to draw attention to the fact that there are still many obstacles for wheelchair users that need to be removed”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Imagine arriving at a location labeled as ‘accessible’, only to discover there’s a step or ridge leading to the front door obstructing your entry. Unfortunately, this situation is all too familiar to people with disabilities.
Tackling this problem head on is Ryerson student Maayan Ziv.
Watch her interview with GlobalTV to see her talk about this great initiative by clicking this photo.
Maayan used her expertise in Digital Media to create an app that allows users to browse an interactive map to discover accessible places around the world. The mobile app, AccessNow, uses crowdsourcing (like Wikipedia) to collect information and rate locations based on people’s accessibility requirements. Locations are marked with colour-coded pins to show the degree of accessibility ranging from accessible, partially accessible, patio access only, and not accessible at all.
Maayan is passionate about creating a more accessible world and this app is a huge step in the right direction!
Meet Justin Anderson.
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!
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”.