The other night when my husband was searching our bookshelves for a copy of Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (don’t ask), he found a copy of a marvelous book I’d picked up years ago. Handmade Helps for Disabled Living (by Stuart Grainger) is a compendium of ideas and projects designed to make living with various disabilities easier.
Many of the items described are now available commercially (a reacher; a sock aid; a book rest), but many of the plans are for things difficult to find or prohibitively expensive. There is a clever “page restrainer” to hold pages in place when a book is being read; a simple page-turner made from ordinary household objects; and a marvelous “tidy trough” that, unlike virtually every desk organizer I’ve ever seen, actually makes it easy to retrieve items (pens, paperclips, etc.,) from their bins.
There’s a simple urine-bottle rack I wish every hospital would use, instead of putting the bottle on the same table used for eating, as is (apparently) universal practice.
My favorite project is something called “the holdfast”, which is designed to hold a jar or a box vertically, or things like bread, salami or cucumbers horizontally — all so that they can be used or sliced with only one hand. Two-inch wide nylon webbing makes it work. Second-favorite is the brilliant and simple “buckled spiral” designed to allow someone missing one hand to hold pens, dining implements, etc. with a forearm. It’s made of a short section of PVC pipe, rubber gas pipe, and webbing.
When I lived in farm country, virtually every other person I knew had the skills and the tools to make these projects. These days, and in most areas in the USA, people generally don’t. This is a book well-worth taking a look at, though, because it may change your view of your world just a little bit, and inspire unexpected solutions to everyday problems. In his introductory comments, Grainger writes:
There are several beautifully simple aids which are immediately available in most homes, so simple that they are often overlooked. Such items as clothes pegs and Bulldog paper clips have numerous uses in addition to those for which they were designed . . . [T]wo large Bulldog clips can be bolted together . . . clamp . . . to a heavy weight . . . and you have a stable miniature vice . . . for holding anything from macrame cords to a fishing fly. . . . [O]rdinary corks [can improve the grip on] such tools as knitting needles and crochet hooks.
Once you’ve seen how Grainger views things, your own creativity may blossom. Almost every project is within reach of a patient suburban hobbiest; most use ordinary materials like plywood and PVC piping. If you’re not inspired to outfit your own small shop, Grainger has a page of suggestions for finding willing craftspeople to do the job for you. What you want is someone who lives and breathes Grainger’s approach to life:
Keep your imagination finely tuned to possibilities beyond those which the designer intended. The habit of automatically evaluating every available article . . . . is a fascinating and precious acquisition.
Originally published in the UK in 1981, then again (my edition) in 1990; Photos and clear, beautifully-executed sketches and instructions. (ISBN-10: 0713439351 or ISBN-13 : 978-0713439359.)
Fourteen (“used and new”) are available from Amazon, beginning at the amazing price of $2.15 USD.
UPDATE: As of this morning, there’s only one left on Amazon, with the price jacked up to a rather ridiculous (not to say opportunistic) $103 (USD). AbeBooks has nine listed, though, from $5 (USD) to $26 (USD) — most are in the UK, but the quoted shipping rates (to the USA) look quite reasonable.
3 replies on “Handmade Helps for Disabled Living”
I had forgotten about this helpful book. My grandfather and I spent a lot of time in the basement making items from this book to help my grandmother after she had a stroke. The designs were simple, elegant, durable and useful. It started my love affair with making all things simple and useful.
I need to get it again to remake some of these items for my grandfather who could now use them.
Thank you for helping remeber something that turned a traumatic experience for my family into something that allowed my grandparents and I to spend time together and help each other.
Definitely worth the $2.15.
Joy — Thanks so much for your comment, and the feedback about the projects themselves — it’s so cool to hear from someone who has used them. I love the idea that this book not only let you make great gear, but also gave you such good memories.
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