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!

Travel Wheelchairs

Securing Wheelchairs in Vehicles

tie-down.gifIf you travel in a wheelchair, or care for someone who does, you might want to take a look at this website, run by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. You’ll find recommendations for best practices, other suggestions, and detailed information about how to use tie-down straps and locking devices.

There’s also an “Other Factors” page with specifics covering basic information that otherwise might get learned the hard way. (Securing loose items, how to deal with trays, head and neck support, etc..)

Especially useful for those who are new to wheelchair transport, this website is also an excellent refresher course for the old pro. (Or for anyone relying on the incomprehensible leaflets that come with new straps.) A glossary page demystifies some of the jargon, and there’s a useful resources page, too.

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.

Everyday Gear

Ergonomic Pen

blue-ergo-pen.jpgWhen hands are injured or stiffened or made clumsy by arthritis or other illnesses, it’s easy to lose the capacity to write. Like speaking a foreign language, pen-and-pencil skills tend to remain sharp only to the extent they’re used regularly. Conventional writing tools can be difficult to grip, though, and holding on to them may require so much concentration that the effort to make notes becomes just too much.

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.


High Tech

Trekinetic Documentary

trekinetic-field.jpgGearAbility readers who live in the UK might want to tune in to London BBC ‘Inside Out’ this Wednesday , October 17, at 7:30 PM. On the schedule is a mini-documentary featuring Trekinetic, makers of a high-tech wheelchair I’ve written about. I’ve no idea what the BBC will say, or how much the K-2 itself will appear, but if you’re at all curious, you might want to take a look.

Once the show has aired, the rest of us can click here to watch it on the Internet. The program will be available for a week after the original air date. This link is to the London ‘Inside Out’ main page; you may have to scout around a bit to find the exact link for this particular episode.


Disaboom – A Slick, Not-So-Pretty Website Ploy

A group of investors has just launched a website called Disaboom.

Don’t mistake this for a website that has people with disabilities primarily in mind. This is a marketing and investment opportunity, and not a very good one. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this language on the “About” page (the italics are my emphasis): is the revolutionary solution to the difficulties faced by an untapped market of more than 650 million adults worldwide living with disabilities


the first online company dedicated to providing a comprehensive resource to meet this market’s specific needs with customized expertise.

From the Investors/Overview page:

There are more than 100 million adults worldwide living with disabilities or functional limitations today. Founded and designed by doctors and fellow Disaboomers to meet this untapped market[’s] . . .

I don’t know about you, but I always resent being referred to as “this market”. Disaboom’s backers are ready and willing to serve all those vendors who are already bombarding “this market” in TV ads, through the AARP, online, and in targeted ads in doctors’ offices and lifestyle magazines. Getting that ad revenue will benefit Disaboom’s investors (maybe). What’s not at all clear is how this website will serve actual people who live with disabilities.

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!

Everyday Gear

Inexpensive Aids

walker.jpgWhile picking up some things for my dad, I checked out Wal-Mart’s assistive devices section. At our local store, the selection is small, but notable. There’s a basic array of standard canes — all metal, and all under $20.00 (USD), including a common collapsible one. Next to an assortment of cane tips I saw ski-type nylon walker sliders for a walker at around $6.00 (USD) — or about 1/5 the price I’ve seen at medical supply houses.

DIY Kids Wheelchairs

DIY – Halloween Costumes

The Bridge School, in Hillsborough, California has a specific mission:

The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.

flying-carpet.jpgLaudable enough, but there’s something on their website of particular interest to GearAbility readers who care for children who use wheelchairs or walkers. The nifty images you see in this post are costumes cleverly adapted to those devices — just in time for Halloween.

drummer.jpgIn addition to Aladdin (upper left) and the Punk Rock Drummer (to the right), there are instructions for George of the Jungle, a Flower Garden, a Bulldozer and (many) more.

The page is full of helpful suggestions; click on the images for instructions for each costume. There’s also a .pdf handbook available (though registration is required to access the download).

The Bridge School’s Halloween Costume Page