As a person with a disability, I currently use both manufactured and homemade assistive devices.
Like many people, I need help with activities of daily living, health care and recreation.
Assistive devices allow me to do things independently. However, no “one size fits all” device exists. The best items are intuitive, multi-purpose and flexible. Sometimes a factory-made ramp can't be used independently, thereby negating much of the benefit. The best solutions are those that are easy to use.
People often create or modify their own devices for a variety of reasons — cost, self-expression, recycle/re-purpose — to fit their specific need or because the original is no longer available.
All groups have their own assistive inventions. Visit students living in a dorm and you'll find all kinds of cooking inventions for a microwave and creative ways to accommodate living in a tiny home. My factory-made reacher-gripper aids me in grasping items out of my reach. A tapered wood sliding board helps me transfer in and out of my wheelchair. The sliding board also serves as a lap table. It's strong, inexpensive and comes in many styles and materials.
Publicly, at a popular downtown coffee house the women's restroom has a factory-made tilting mirror over the sink. At two local theaters they offer homemade floor leveling ramps for wheelchairs. These items are examples of good design.
Many items are innovative; but not a universal fit. I have a power assist wheelchair that can be manually pushed and has a motor. If I'm out for a stroll with my husband, every motorized push sends the wheelchair forward eight or more feet. My husband constantly has to run to catch-up with me! I can't make the chair run slower.
Every PT or OT I've ever worked with has encouraged homemade assistive devices as long as they were safe. Additionally, adapting manufactured devices can nullify warranties, refunds, insurance coverage and result in failed applicable inspections. The same is sometimes true when buying or accepting used items.
A few of my own inventions include: using a skate board to sit on for gardening, utilizing a baby Snuggie to carry things, for pain —sleeping on a silk pillowcase so I can slide my shoulders and turn over more easily, utilizing a ramp wrapped around the square of a deck, having a removable cloth door curtain hung in a doorway on an expansion rod and rings and recycling an old ping pong table for a removable light-weight ramp.
Susan Odgers, a resident of Traverse City for the past 29 years, has used a wheelchair for 40 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached by contacting the Record-Eagle.
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