Everyday Gear Games/Recreation High Tech Public Accessibility Travel Wheelchairs

Segway Scooter as an Assistive Device

A group called DRAFT (Disabililty Rights Advocates for Technology) distributes Segway scooters through its Segs4Vets program, matching Segways with veterans with a wide variety of disabilities. Segway scooters have a very small ‘footprint’, with a turning radius that is much smaller than that of a power chair. For most users they represent a less-fatiguing, more versatile means of ‘walking’ — as well as one that accommodates a wide variety of terrain.

Best of all, say users, a Segway, unlike a wheelchair, allows face-to-face interaction.

Sounds like a great, feel-good post doesn’t it? Maybe — but it turns out that the obstacles these vets face aren’t the ones you’d expect. Because Segways go much faster than a power chair and appear to represent a greater threat to pedestrians, many cities (liberal, people-loving San Francisco, among them) have banned them. So have other venues: Disney World and at least one Barnes and Noble store in Arizona, among them.

Disney’s argument seems to be that the scooters haven’t been certified as ADA assistive devices; it’s unclear how retailer objections will play out. A Segway disability-use permit — like the parking placards issued by every state — would seem to be a simple, logical solution to the question of identifying scooter drivers with a disability, but hey, I’m only thinking logically here. While the world sorts this out, riders might want to pack a doctor’s note and see if some courteous information exchange can get them to that latte.

Segways aren’s for everyone with a disability. Though they can be modified in various ways, their use depends on considerable motor skills, along with a dose of good judgment. (Speed is increased or decreased by leaning forward or back; forgetting this can have serious consequences.) Those who use them particularly cite the advantages of being able to travel upright for longer periods of time, and the ease of getting where power chairs just don’t like to go. There’s a certain cool factor, too. Unlike a power chair, they’re likely to inspire some admiring glances; this assistive device is coveted by people without disabilities, as well.

Segway image from Flickr


Easy-Entry Hammock

ham.jpgThere’s not much fair weather camping time left in most parts of the USA this year, but those who plan ahead, and those who live year-round in warm climates, might be interested in these hammocks. With angles and edges everywhere, they don’t much resemble the traditional backyard snoozing spot, and they don’t seem to have many of the disadvantages of the tippy hammock you’re probably familiar with. These new-fangled slings are touted for just about everyone, but especially for people with back pain and arthritis:

. . . the easy-enter system allows you to settle yourself without leaping over the side of the hammock, wary of the dangers of flipping over or falling out. Climbing into the hammock is as easy as sitting in a chair and exiting is equally convenient.

The bottom of the hammock is split, allowing a person to enter the hammock from below, while standing. You then sit fully supported in the hammock, lie back, and set your legs up along the sides. Once you’re inside, the bottom of the hammock is self-closing.

The website claims that the asymmetrical shape provides a very different experience than sleeping in a regular hammock.

Tall or large campers and campers with injuries, arthritis or bone spurs tell us about finding their first night of comfort in many years in the larger Explorer or Safari Deluxe models.

The website is a lot of fun; one section is labeled “Every Purpose” and, if you’ve got the time, you may very well discover that there is nothing that can’t be done with this hammock.

If you’re someone who’s given up on camping because tent floors and sleeping bags present too much of a challenge, this very different bed might be worth a try. Did I mention that it does triple-duty as a camp chair and lounger, as well? Pictures galore on the Hennessy Hammock website.

Hennessy is a Canadian company, but ships worldwide.


Cycles for People with Disabilites

zsun.jpgI spent part of an excellent afternoon recently at a recumbent cycle shop. Recumbents are a great alternative for many people who love cycling, but who can’t, for one reason or another, use conventional bicycles.

cat.jpgRecumbent cycles allow the rider to sit in a more natural, and comfortable, position — as opposed to leaning over, or into, the handlebars — and let legs stretch out in front instead of dangling. Recumbents are kind to spines, and a recumbent with underseat steering can be an advantage for people with arm or hand issues. Recumbent trikes offer stability for people with balance problems, or for those who worry about falling.

tertri.jpg“Comfortable”, in the case of recumbents, does not mean stodgy. These cycles can go anywhere and do just about anything (and more!) than the familiar two-wheeler. And the trikes? These are not your grandmother’s (or even your mother’s) trikes — they’re sleek and geared to take on hills wherever you find them. I’d never ridden a ‘bent until my recent test drives; the experience was exhilarating and very much like the joy of riding a conventional cycle.

Recumbent Bike Rider is like a ‘bent lover’s candy store. I think I saw at least one version of every recumbent I’ve looked at on the Internet. Rob, the owner, is low-key and accommodating; he spontaneously mentioned that he’s discovered that his customer base is much wider than the recumbent enthusiasts he first encountered when he opened the shop. He’s now dealing with a much broader population, and is customizing models for people with disabilities. If State College is within striking distance, and you have particular cycling requirements that a recumbent might address, you might want to look Rob up.

In general, your chances of finding a bike shop willing to fit a cycle to your personal needs may be greater if the shop sells recumbents. You’re a little more likely to have discovered the kind of enthusiast who tinkers more; recumbents require a little more effort to assemble than your standard two-wheeler.

Top recumbent from RBR (Sun’s website is unusable)

Yellow recumbent from Catrike

Touring Trike from WizWheelz

Update: After a series of unpleasant emails from Sun representative Joe Z., I will not recommend Sun products to anyone, and definitely won’t be buying one myself. If you’re interested in a lower-priced recumbent, I’d urge you to wait until spring, when Sun is expected to have a great deal more competition as newer, less-expensive models from other companies join the field.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the contact. Before a major purchase, especially when product support may be an issue down the road, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with the company ahead of time. If you’re treated poorly as a prospective customer, you can bet that customer service will only be worse after you buy.

Recumbents can’t be serviced at just any shop; if you need parts or assistance and you end up dealing with a manufacturer who isn’t committed to customer service, you’re really stuck. My recent experience with Sun puts it firmly in that category.

Games/Recreation Gifts

Attractive Interlocking Cards for Construction Play

cards.jpgBuilding structures with playing cards is a fine amusement, but requires an extremely stable surface, a good eye and a measure of simple good fortune. These cards, produced by Eames Office and designed by Charles and Ray Eames, have six slots each, which allows them to interlock securely while minimizing the need for exceptional skill or luck.

From the Eames Office toy page (which also explains the history of the cards):

The images are of what [the] Eameses called “good stuff “, chosen to celebrate “familiar and nostalgic objects from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms.”

The related Eames Gallery offers the House of Cards in several styles and sizes: Small ( 3 3/4 by 2 3/4 inches), Medium ((7 by 4 1/2 inches), or Giant (11 by 7 inches). Quantities and images vary by size; there’s also a set featuring images of Eames textiles.

These visually stimulating cards lend themselves to all sorts of uses. They’d be great as entertainment for anyone stuck in bed (or hospital); as a tool for practicing dexterity and hand-eye coordination; as a cooperative interactive game between people of varied ages; or as a story-telling motivator in a nursing home.

The Eames Gallery online store is bizarre and impossible to navigate, but you’ll probably have to shop there to buy the Giant or Textile versions. If you’re going for the medium or small sizes, try MOMA instead.


John Callahan

cal-satan.gifBlack humor has gotten many a sorry human over a rough patch in life, and I, personally, am not immune to its lure. My dad is ill enough now that his mind has begun to play tricks on him; it works far better for both of us if we look upon these episodes as humorous diversions, rather than acknowledging, on a daily basis, the truth of what this change really means. Emotional survival trumps just about everything in these situations.

In this spirit, I offer up John Callahan. The PC police, the sensitive, and the just plain humorless — all of whom are absolutely entitled to their opinions (and, for that matter, welcome to them)– had probably better stop reading here. Callahan is a master of the absurd, but he’s not exactly over-imbued with politesse.

He is, however, screamingly funny, and brilliant at skewering the idiots, and idiocies, he encounters in life. There’s a website, and a large collection of books. From his website’s “General Store” (“open 24 hours a day, wheelchair accessible”), this description of his book The Best of Callahan:

This book is not for the timid, the easily offended, the politically correct, or your grandparents. It’s for people who like their humor dark . . . about issues Mom and Dad told us were impolite to talk about in public. If you find offense, you shouldn’t have been looking! We’re not the boss of you . . .

That about covers it.

Oh, yeah — Callahan’s been using a wheelchair since an auto accident when he was 21. Those who are both depraved and living with a disability will especially enjoy his point of view. Bon appetit!


‘Playgrounds’ for Older People

Image of Two Women at a Berlin Fitness ParkIn response to the perceived needs of an aging population, German municipalities have been experimenting with outdoor parks for their citizens. This past March, a new ‘playground’ for older people opened in Berlin’s Preussenpark. Designed and built by a company called Playfit, it’s modeled on exercise areas created in China to keep older members of the population in good health.

In China the emphasis is more on flexibility; in Europe and the USA, the focus tends to be more on strength-building. The Berlin park, and similar ones in Nuremberg, are adapted to focus more on the Western model, using isometric exercise to strengthen muscles and increase stamina and balance. Berlin’s Preussenpark has eight devices, some of them like conventional gym exercisers and others specially adapted, including one with a nubby surface to stimulate the back.

At Home DIY Games/Recreation

DIY – Guitar or Banjo Pick Adapted for Large Knuckles

Image of Various Guitar Picks, Including Metal OnesArthritis and other joint problems can cause enlarged or swollen knuckles, making it difficult to keep a guitar (or banjo) pick on the finger. I adapted a steel pick like the ones shown here (on the right in the picture) so that my dad could keep playing his instruments a little longer.

My ‘fix’ is a little crude, but it worked well for Dad. I bought two metal picks, and used pliers to bend the ‘pick’ portion on one (that would be the blade part, not the band) back and forth until it broke off. (I made sure to bend it so that the rougher edge would be on the outside of the band, not next to Dad’s finger.) This left me with a ring-like band.

Games/Recreation Travel Wheelchairs

SF-Area Trails for People Who Use Wheelchairs

GearAbility is back, and the laptop is feeling much better now, thank you. In honor of the summer weather — which is currently rotten on the east coast, but probably lots better in California — today’s post celebrates the great outdoors.

Image of Ann Sieck and Friend on a Wooded TrailBerkeley, California resident Ann Sieck has a website called San Francisco Bay Area Wheelchair Accessible Trails, with a rather comprehensive listing of trails she’s either used herself with various wheelchairs, or which have been rated by other “reliable sources”.

Games/Recreation Nursing Home

Non-Trivial Pursuits – Dad at Work and Play

Image of a Calendar BoardMy dad has a job at the nursing home now. He’s the party responsible for changing the calendar sign on the wing he lives on. Against all odds, he’s enjoying this task thoroughly, and making jokes about how “there’s no more free ride”. It’s been impossible to get him to help out in any other way, but he’s very pleased with this role.

I suspect he likes the routine, and is also happy that it doesn’t interfere with another favorite habit — spending the morning reading the Wall Street Journal. Now that his legs are increasingly bothersome, the trip to the placard is short enough that he can still manage it on his own — and “on his own” is a status he much prefers.

Finding ways to keep my dad mentally stimulated has been difficult. (I wrote about this previously in Therapeutic Recreation for Those Who Will Not Play.) A little while ago, I happened to mention Trivial Pursuit to the husband of a new resident when he had stopped by to say hello to my dad. He remembered the game, and said something positive about it; in the face of what looked a little like peer pressure, Dad did not immediately refuse to consider playing.

Books Everyday Gear Games/Recreation

Electronic Book for One-Handed Page Turning

Image of a Sony Electronic ReaderThe Sony Reader is an electronic ‘book’ that eliminates the need for two-handed page turning. According to a recent review at Cool Tools, it’s got a screen that’s visible even in sunlight. If the screen is as easy to read as Sony and the review claim, it could be a convenient solution for one-handed reading, either out-and-about, on an across-the-bed table, or just around the house.

At 7 by 4 inches, it’s about the size of a small paperback, and fairly light at only 9 ounces. It recharges in about 4 hours, and each charge is good for about 7,500 page “turns” — according to the review, the approximate equivalent of about 7 book’s worth of page-turning.

‘Books’ can be purchased at the Sony Connect store. For you those of you who speak the lingo, the Reader uses BBeB as well as PDF, TXT and RTF formats.

Quite pricey at $350 (USD), but maybe just the tool for the right avid reader who has difficulty turning pages and holding conventional books.

Read the whole, information-packed review on Cool Tools.

Available on the Sony website, and at Best Buy.

Update: Maybe the Reader’s available at a brick-and-mortar Best Buy somewhere, but not in the Mid-Atlantic states right now; none in stores, and none in “the warehouse”. I stopped by yesterday (5/18/07) hoping to see one, and an employee checked BB’s internal inventory system, with that rather dismal result.