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.
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!
This is why I’ve been so inspired by Izzy Camilleri’s work, particularly her “Designs for Sitting”.
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!
Read more 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 –
See what I mean? ROCKSTAR!
How does all this fit together?
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!
Filed under Accessibility, Design, Inspirational, invention, Mobility Aids, Personal Stories, Photos, Posts, Projects, Recreation, Videos
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.
Now here’s a COOL design for those HOT summer days! Mobi-mats are lightweight, durable, portable mats that can be rolled out onto sandy beaches making them accessible to wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers.
Mobi-mats in action at Rockaway Beach NYC
These mats are being used on beaches around the world including Rockaway Beach in New York and beaches in Rio de Janeiro.
Recently, Wasaga Beach just outside of Toronto purchased some mobi-mats making their beach one of the most accessible in the province. CBC Metro Morning interviewed town clerk Twyla Nicholson about the town councils decision to purchase the mats, and the impact its having on residents and visitors to the beach.
Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch pushes Frank Nunnaro, Wasaga Beach resident and Accessibility Advisory Committee member, down the new Mobi-mats towards the water at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, July 11, 2013