(Health Secrets) Children and adults with physical disabilities have many challenges. Alex Truesdell wanted to help, and was inspired to start the Adaptive Design Association (ADA). In a public television interview she explained that teachers, therapists, and parents can build innovative and therapeutically appropriate adaptive equipment. For anyone wanting building plans, she and her dedicated volunteers are just a computer click, phone call or letter away.
Truesdell has pioneered the use of cardboard boxes to create strong, lightweight and functional adaptive devices, such as chairs, tables and supports for walking. She says a major problem for parents is that adaptive equipment is very expensive and can be heavy and bulky. Good design must be functional for the person and the caregiver.
Because a child grows and needs change, adaptive devices can become obsolete quickly. This is one reason why cardboard is an excellent construction material. Truesdell describes her mission as one of engagement. Families, schools, and communities can come together in the process of designing and building adaptive equipment for each specific child’s size and needs. Appropriate adaptive devices enhance the child’s social, physical and academic development.
“ADA envisions a day when adaptive design services are widely recognized as an indispensable resource for children and all people with disabilities; and customized equipment is being produced quickly, affordably, and locally.”
Adaptive equipment that works for the disabled and their caregivers is born
Truesdell, who trained as an early childhood teacher, was working at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston in 1981. There she met Erin, an infant with severe multiple disabilities. “I had never heard of adaptive technology, but suddenly found myself waking up in the night thinking of adaptations. I rolled towels into bolsters, carved notches in toys, and threaded straps through seat backs.” With the help of her Uncle, a skilled builder, they transformed ideas and frustrations into highly customized solutions for Erin.
Alex set up a small workshop in her basement where she made adaptive devices and created assistive technology for her students. Eventually she was hired by the Perkins School to start the Assistive Device Center. In 1998, Truesdell relocated to New York City where she started an internship program for women re-entering the workforce through Alternatives To Incarceration.
Alex and Antoinette LaSorsa developed a pilot program and in 2001 established the independent nonprofit Adaptive Design Association. Since its creation, ADA has trained “over 1200 therapists, teachers, and parents in adaptive design techniques, and has created over 3000 pieces of adaptive equipment for children with disabilities.”
Whether the equipment is a stroller seat insert for an infant with cerebral palsy, an adapted toothbrush handle for a woman with paralyzed hands, or a tactile communication board for an adolescent who is deaf and blind, the ADA believes that no one should go without customized equipment. Adaptive and assistive technology is redefining possibilities for children and adults with disabilities. This enables individuals with disabilities to be more independent, productive, and integrated into the mainstream of society and community life.
Over the 17-year history of ADA, it has helped thousands of New York City children and provided hundreds of hands-on classes and internships to future designers and builders. ADA centers have been established in Guatemala City, Toronto, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil, Boston, Montreal, San Diego, Romania, Holland, and new projects are beginning in Portland, Oregon and La Paz, Bolivia.
ADA has an email newsletter and online forum and blog. Participants share adaptations, photos, accomplishments, and questions with a wider adaptive design community across the world. To join the forum as a contributor, they ask that you email firstname.lastname@example.org with your first idea.
The mailing address is:
Adaptive Design Association, Inc.
313 West 36th Street New York, NY 10018
ADA reminds us that there are children as well as adults and seniors in every community who need custom adaptations. Just as certainly, every community is filled with people who would love to be part of the design and fabrication of those adaptations.
With a small work space, skilled staff, and a group of savvy volunteers, an ADA center can play a key role in transforming our understanding of disability in education, employment, transportation, recreation, rehabilitation, veteran services, and senior care.
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