At Home

Fruit and Vegetable Chopper

Preparing food, and particularly chopping food, is a challenge for people with limited fine motor skills or other difficulties using their hands or fingers. Here’s a review of one product that may work for some people who like to cook, but who find conventional slicing and dicing too difficult or cumbersome. Fair warning, though — this device isn’t for everyone.

The principle behind Williams-Sonoma’s “Professional Multi-Chopper” is much like the idea behind the vegetable cutter written about in this previous GearAbility post. Both come with a set of blades and grids, allowing different variations in cuts for food. The multi-chopper, however, comes with a large (8 cup) chamber to collect cut food, and its larger size allows faster processing of larger quantities.

There are a couple of tricks to using it. First, this chopper requires a fair amount of downward pressure, best achieved by pressing flat with both palms on the top and pushing quickly. Some people may find it easier to apply the necessary leverage by setting the chopper below their waists (on a chair, for instance) in order to achieve the necessary force. People with limited arm strength might find that the pressure required is excessive, though.

Secondly, the upper girds can be tricky to remove. There’s a button on the top of the pusher that theoretically makes it easy to pop out the grid, but, in my experience, this simply doesn’t work. Instead, I find myself gently rocking the grid, from the underside, to remove it. This does not really require any dexterity, but does require the ability to hook a couple of fingers under the edge, and move them firmly and gently up and down.

Thirdly, it’s prudent to do some experimenting so that you learn what works best in terms of technique. It would be fabulous if this device could slice a whole onion with one swift push, but it won’t. You’ll find that cutting onions in half first is a much better idea. It’s also important to make sure that whatever you’re chopping is well-seated on the blades, and centered, too. For soft foods like mushrooms, it’s smart to gently press the mushroom onto the blades before pushing them through.

That may seem like a pretty daunting list of caveats, but setting those aside, this is a great tool for rapid processing of a wide variety of foods. One of the grids and cutters cores and sections apples; another one sections lemons and limes beautifully. After damaging my fingers several years ago, I couldn’t do either, but this chopper makes quick work of both jobs. As soon as I learned to use it, I found myself reaching for this device frequently, and now it’s a staple tool in my kitchen.

There’s a helpful video on Williams-Sonoma’s website demonstrating the chopper (and, if you watch carefully, inadvertently illustrating just how difficult it is to get that grid out of the pusher).

At Home Home Modifications

Car Battery Disconnect Switch for Drivers with Dementia

batswitch.gifIn the United States, there is probably no greater rite of passage into adulthood, and the independence it represents, than acquiring a driver’s license. Losing that privilege through disability can be incredibly devastating. When Alzheimer’s or other dementias are involved, explaining why driving is no longer safe may not be sufficient to keep a loved one off the road.

One non-confrontational solution is this battery disconnect switch. It’s easy to install on the battery terminal; turning the knob disconnects the battery, making it impossible to start the car. When the car must be driven, the knob is screwed back down, and the battery functions again.

It’s much easier, emotionally, to accept that the car just isn’t working today than it is to accept that a lifetime of independence is gone. A mechanical solution like this may minimize conflicts, while, at the same time, keeping the roads safer for everyone.

“No Start” Car Battery Disconnect Switch, $19.95 (USD) at The Alzheimer’s Store

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Gifts Nursing Home

Calendar with Date Marker

call-tag.jpgDistinguishing one day from another is one of the difficulties of living in a nursing home. Sometimes it’s also an issue for people who don’t observe a routine outside of their usual living space.

Knowing what the day and date are and anticipating activities and holidays are important tools for keeping mental skills in good shape.

I was pleased to find this calendar last year for my dad. The daily squares are large enough so that I can note activities in large letters; my dad can easily read the calendar from his wheelchair.

This calendar also has an uncommon feature: a date marker. This is a red rectangle that slides on a transparent strip of plastic. The plastic band wraps around the calendar; you move the rectangle each day to the correct date. If Dad doesn’t remember what activities are on today’s schedule — or if he’s confused about what day it is — the rectangle cues him.

The only drawback is that it’s boring! We solved that in Dad’s room by hanging three different calendars (all showing Golden Retrievers, of course) next to this calendar. They’re folded so that only the glossy photos of dogs show.

On the first of the month when I change the page of the large calendar, I also flip the canine calendar pages, revealing three new dogs-of-the-month. Practicality and glamor; you can’t beat the combination!

I found this calendar in an office supply store last year, but haven’t seen it this year. It’s called AT-A-Glance Wall Calendar with Additional Features, and I found it online at

Members of the DIY crowd could probably find a number of ways to implement a similar date marker on almost any wall calendar by making a bright cardboard rectangle and cutting a clear plastic strip from holiday packaging.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Gifts

DIY – Laptop Desk for Chair or Bed

ben-desk.jpgI’ve never liked chairs much, and work at my desk only when there’s no other option. My preferred writing mode is in, or on, a bed or couch, stretched out with my laptop in front of me. For a long time, I used a Targus laptop desk that I originally bought for travel. I like it very much, but I don’t much like having the weight of the laptop on my thighs for hours at a time.

Eventually I ran across IKEA Hacker, and discovered this mod of IKEA’s Benjamin stool. If you compute in bed or in a chair by necessity or by choice, this portable desk might enhance the experience. It’s been a great solution for me.

It took me just about 40 minutes to turn this $20 purchase into a terrific laptop desk. I use it every day, and it’s a pleasure every time. Mr. Smiley, on Hacker, used a $6 coping saw to do the cuts; I used my $6 hacksaw.

My version is a little taller than the one shown on Hacker; I had to trim the stool’s legs twice to get the height exactly where I wanted it, and the angle just right. (It’s smart to leave the stool too tall at first, if you’re not sure you’ve got the height calculated perfectly.)

Of course, this laptop desk isn’t adjustable once you’ve made it, but if $140 for a Laptop Laidback is a bit much, this could be a fine compromise.

I cut a piece of gripping mesh to fit between the laptop and the desk, which keeps the computer from sliding around. My laptop stays nice and cool, and so do I, since its underside isn’t in contact with my body. The desk’s relatively high clearance means that my lap and legs don’t feel cramped and don’t get numb when I work for hours, and if I sit up properly, the keyboard is at a perfect ergonomic angle. That’s good for my wrists and hands, too.

If you scroll down on the IKEA Hacker page, you’ll see a few more amusing variations on this theme, though nothing as useful as this particular “hack”.

At Home DIY Everyday Gear Travel

DIY – Small, Sleek Cart for Portable Oxygen

Modern portable units have revolutionized the lives of many oxygen users. Unlike the bulky and heavy tanks of former times, contemporary units are quite compact and often can even be worn like shoulder bags. The corresponding increase in mobility has quite literally changed lives, but for many, even the smallest units can be difficult to carry over the course of a few hours.

oxy-cart.jpgMetal carts are easily found and quite common. They’re ugly, though, look flimsy, and aren’t particularly user-friendly. One inventive son came up with this attractive and practical alternative for his mother. The base is a rectangular wooden box with sides just high enough to hold the tank in place. Two sturdy dowels lead from the back of the box to a thicker, horizontal dowel which forms the handle. The wheels are on a simple axle.

The sides of the box drop below the platform so that the cart is stable when upright; it rolls easily whether pushed or pulled. Mom pointed out that the handle was the perfect height for a little support when resting, saying that it felt a lot like having a cane along.

At Home Everyday Gear

Michael Graves Disability Designs

shower.jpgIn 2003, famed architect Michael Graves was struck by a serious infection that left him with paraplegia. Graves is widely known in non-architecture circles for his amusing designs for Target; since his illness, he has begun to design disability aids that demonstrate the sense of playfulness evident in his Target collection.


At Home Everyday Gear High Tech

Computing While Reclining

laptop-table.jpgFor people whose computers are almost an extra appendage, time spent in bed can be frustrating and miserable if it means limiting Internet access. Balancing a laptop on a chest or stomach can overheat the machine, and is terrible for hands and wrists.

Laptop Laidback is made for people who prefer to (or must) use laptops while reclining. The table has a broad, stable stance; a ledge holds the laptop in place. Both angle and height are adjustable, and the unit folds flat for storage or transportation.

According to the site, the legs adjust in 5 degree increments — that’s the kind of fine-tuning that can keep wrists and arms happy.

Click on “Product” from the home page for technical information. You’ll need to scroll down to see the full list of specifications.

Thanks, Paul!

At Home

Chairs for Children Who Need Positioning Support

Image of Lime Green Stokke Tripp Trapp ChairIf you read GearAbility regularly, you know that it’s an article of faith around here that adaptive equipment doesn’t always have to be specifically designed for the medical consumer. Today’s case in point is Stokke’s Tripp Trapp chair, a sleek, modern chair designed to fit people from babyhood up through teens. (And beyond, if you’re a small adult.)

The Tripp Trapp it is a beautiful, well-designed piece of furniture with a reputation for durability. Both the footplate and the seat adjust up and down the legs to allow a custom fit for whichever child is using it, making it a good choice for many positioning requirements. It’s meant to fit under regular dining tables and counters as a kid-friendly dining chair in almost any house.

The Tripp Trapp isn’t cheap at about $200 [USD] (plus another $40 [USD] or so for the baby rail, if you need it). On the other hand, if eBay’s any indication, resale value is high; if yours is well-cared-for, you might be able to recoup much of the expense when it’s no longer needed.

Image of a Special Tomato Adaptive ChairAn equivalent adaptive model is made by Special Tomato. The “Height Right” chair isn’t as attractive as the Tripp Trapp, and the framing looks a bit jerry-rigged to me. I think I’d be more likely to trust the time-tested Stokke design. Special Tomato does offer a wooden tray, though, which could be useful for extra support in some circumstances.

The Height Right sells for around $170 [USD], the tray for a whopping $83 [USD]. Stokke doesn’t offer a tray; if that’s what’s needed for optimal support, then the Special Tomato is the way to go.

You’ll be able to buy the Stokke at upscale children’s stores; the Special Tomato will almost certainly require ordering from a supply house like Sammons Preston; shipping fees are likely to increase the cost substantially.

At Home Nursing Home Travel Wheelchairs

Simple Two-Person Transfer Sling

Image of a Gimpgear Personal Transfer SlingPreviously, I’ve written about the hydraulic lift I used to transfer my dad from his wheelchair onto the seat of a car. It’s a great device, but cumbersome and requires installation in whatever vehicle is being used.

The sling in the picture above (left) is quite similar to the one my dad’s automatic lift. The difference is that the Comfort Carrier doesn’t require a mechanical arm. If you’re in situations where there are usually two people available to help with a transfer, this is a far simpler — and much less expensive — solution.

At Home Everyday Gear

Food Storage Using One Hand

Image of a Lock & Lock Container With Two Removable TraysPlastic containers are probably the most useful food storage device in any kitchen, but if you have only one good hand to work with, opening and closing most of them can be nearly impossible. Lock & Lock makes containers that close with four locking flanges, each operated independently. It’s simple to place the heel of your hand on the top of the container, and use your fingers to open or close each flap.