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.
Whether you’ve got a bike, scooter, walker or wheelchair, duct tape is a seriously cheap and fast way to personalize any ride. No longer limited to that traditional grey, this strong adhesive product now comes in like a bazillion varieties of colours and sizes!
Duck Tape has leveraged the versatility of their brand to meet the needs of a growing number of DIY’s (do-it-yourselfers). They have a massive selection for people to choose from for repairs, crafts, labeling and decorating purposes. You can buy transparent tints, mini-rolls, sheets, and specialty duct tape—even scented and glow-in-the-dark products now exist!
Using duct tape as a tool for personalization is both accessible and affordable and the fact that is so durable and waterproof is an added bonus. I recently came across these sweet rides that were decorated with duct tape – check them out!
I pulled up beside this ride the other day and she explained her use of Duck Tape: “I started by fixing my seat and then loved it so much just kept taping! Hides the rust too!”
Saw this camouflage scooter in front of me at the border. The guy inside told me through his open window that he thinks the tape is a great improvement “I’ve always been an outdoor guy.”
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”.
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 –
1. It’s the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who! The long running BBC science fiction tv series about the adventures of a time-traveling humanoid alien known as the Doctor. My brother and I seriously loved this show when we were kids – it has great characters and some seriously creative low-tech special effects!
2. Dr. Who travels in this super cool ship – the TARDIS – a time machine that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
The TARDIS used from 2005 to 2010
3. It was Halloween a few weeks ago and I’ve started to notice an awesome trend toward Wheelchair Costumes (what a great idea!). There are lots of great ones out there, but one of my all time favourites is from the UK of Dr. Who and his TARDIS!
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.