For People Living with Disabilities, New Products Prove Both Practical and Stylish

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When buying a pair of shoes, a pen, or a new car—the expectation is for the product to do the job. But you also want it to look good: stylish, current, cool. Why wouldn’t the same be true of products—wheelchairs, hearing aids, and more—designed to aid those with disabilities?

This is one of the major questions explored in the new exhibition “Access+Ability,” on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum through September 3 of this year. The show, which features more than 70 works, from an aerodynamic racing wheelchair to a vibration-activated shirt that allows the deaf to experience sounds, covers the wide range of innovations occurring in accessible design. It reflects how designers creating products for those with disabilities are making them not just increasingly functional and practical, but stylish.

“Why not be able to change the color of your prosthetic leg to match your style, your taste, your outfit?” asks Cara McCarty, director of curatorial at Cooper Hewitt, who co-curated the exhibition with Rochelle Steiner, curator and professor of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California. “You can dress it up, dress it down.”

McCarty is referring to a set of prosthetic leg covers designed and manufactured by McCauley Wanner and Ryan Palibroda for ALLELES Design Studio, which come in a number of patterns and colors, allowing the user the kind of choice they would get if shopping for any other item of apparel.

“Just like people add tattoos to their limbs, life-enhancing products can be yours, you can add your identity to it,” says McCarty.

A similar development can be seen in the jeweled hearing aids designed by artist Elana Langer. On first glance, they appear as eye-catching earrings before a closer looks reveals the wearer actually inserts a portion of it into the ear.

Many of the works look like something you’d be as likely to come across at Macy’s as at a medical supplier. The show includes a pair of Nike-designed shoes, inspired by a boy with cerebral palsy who wrote to the sneaker manufacturer when he was 13 saying he wanted to be able to put on his shoes by himself. The result features a wraparound zipper system at the back of the heel that has no need for laces, making it far easier for someone with a movement disorder to use. But they also look really cool.

“Anybody could wear those shoes,” says McCarty. The bottom line, she adds, is “giving people choice.”

Continue onto the Smithsonian to read the complete article.

Special Olympics USA to host its first-ever video game tournament

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wide shot of gaming arena filled with gamers and people

Esports is coming to the Special Olympics. The organization announced Tuesdaythat its first ever video game tournament will take place on July 2 as part of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

Special Olympics is partnering with Microsoft’s Xbox division for the tournament, in which teams will compete in rounds of Forza Motorsport 7.

Competitors have been chosen from qualifier events that took place at Microsoft stores last month, creating eight “Unified” teams that will consist of one athlete with and one athlete without an intellectual disability.

“Many of our athletes are avid gamers and research indicates playing video games can potentially boost cognitive and motor skills of people with intellectual disabilities,” said Beth Knox in the announcement, who is the president and CEO of this year’s games.

Continue onto CNet to read the complete article.

Getty is trying to bring disability inclusion to stock photos

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man in wheelchair working on computer

Nearly one in five people have a disability, but just 2% of publicly available imagery depicts their lives. The photo company, alongside Oath and the National Disability Leadership Alliance, is working to change that.

In the stock photo world, images of people with disabilities tend to cluster at two poles. “They’re either depicted as superhuman or super pathetic,” says Rebecca Swift, Getty Images’ director of visual insights. “There doesn’t seem to be that broad range that you get with able-bodied people.”

Getty has seen searched for disability-related images spike in the past year–“wheelchair access” searches were up 371% from 2016 to 2017, and autism-related searches climbed 434%–and the issue of representation became impossible to ignore.

That also became clear to Oath, the parent company of Yahoo and Tumblr, as they were working to set up a website highlighting their work around accessibility in tech and having difficulty finding representative images. So the company, with consult from the National Disability Leadership Alliance, tapped Getty to help change the current representation paradigm from the inside out. Launched May 17, The Disability Collection, a new subcategory of Getty images, will feature people with disabilities in everyday settings.

What you notice first are people’s faces. In contrast to those common images that focus on a person’s hands gripping a wheelchair, or frame a blind person before a window to show what they can’t see–or depict the blur of a prosthetic leg as it strikes a track–the images in the new Getty collection focus on human interaction and people’s facial expressions.

Of course, there are challenges to capturing a range of disabilities. Visual media gravitates toward visual cues, but not all disabilities are necessarily visible. “That’s why the wheelchair tends to be the icon of disability,” Swift says. “This project for us as a business is about getting it all down and saying: Don’t just focus on wheelchairs. Think about the entire range, and think about how people with disabilities want to be depicted.”

For Getty, that meant building out a set of guidelines for photographers in their network to follow. They emphasize focusing on mundane moments from everyday–texting, taking selfies, grocery shopping. A lot of the guidelines come from focus groups with disability organizations that Oath hosted and shared with Getty. “We’ve taken input from a host of advocacy groups about how people in their communities want to be depicted,” Swift says.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

How to build a bike-share system for people of all abilities

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group of people with all abilities riding bikes

Just ask Detroit, whose Adaptive MoGo program, featuring 13 cycles designed to work for people with disabilities, launched this month.

MoGo, Detroit’s bike-share system, launched in 2017. But a couple years before, when it was still in the planning phases, Lisa Nuszkowsi, MoGo’s founder and executive director, got a call from John Waterman, who heads up a Ypsilanti-based nonprofit initiative called Programs to Educate All Cyclists. PEAC helps people with disabilities learn to ride bikes and use cycling as a means of empowerment and self-transportation, and Waterman wanted to know how Nuszkowski planned to make bike sharing accessible to people of all abilities.

“I said: ‘That’s a great question–what are we going to do?’” Nuszkowski tells Fast Company. She proposed working with Waterman to find a solution, and the result of that collaboration–a fleet of adaptive bicycles–launched as a pilot program May 15.

The adaptive MoGo program comprises 13 specially designed bikes. There’s a tricycle that users can pedal with their hands; this option is particularly beneficial to people with limited mobility below the waist. The cargo bike contains enough space in the front attachment for a passenger with mobility impairments to sit comfortably while someone pedals behind them; it’s also workable for parents of small children or service-dog owners who want to bring them along for a ride. And there are several tandem bike options that allow riders who may have issues with vision or balance to experience the benefits of cycling while having someone help steer in the front.

For the duration of the pilot program, which runs through October, people can rent out the bikes at a local shop, Wheelhouse Detroit, which sits right along the city’s popular Riverwalk greenway path. A single day pass on one of the bikes is $12, or users can buy a season pass for $30 and get unlimited use (based on availability) during that time. Either way, users have to first reserve a bike online. “It functions more like a bike rental,” Nuszkowski says. It’s very different from the standard MoGo model, where users check out bikes independently at one of the city’s 43 docks for $8 a day. But after hosting numerous focus groups with members of the disability community, “the feedback that we heard was that many people have mobility devices that they use, whether it be a wheelchair or a cane, and having a place to store that is really useful,” she adds.

Continue onto FastCompany to read the complete article.

How Xbox Adaptive Controller Will Make Gaming More Accessible

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xbox adaptive controller

On Wednesday night, Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox Adaptive Controller for the Xbox One console, aimed at making gaming more accessible for those with disabilities and mobility limitations as part of their Gaming for Everyone initiative.

The device allows for individual customization through a series of peripheral attachments that allow gamers to cater the controls to their own specific comfort.

For many, the current Xbox controller design (and those of other consoles’ controllers like Nintendo’s Switch and Sony’s Playstation 4) presents a challenge to use as it was not designed for individuals with mobility impairments. The Adaptive Controller is a foot-long rectangular unit with a d-pad, menu and home buttons, the Xbox home icon button and two additional large black buttons that can be mapped to any function.

On its back are a series of jacks for input devices and various peripheral accessories, each of which can be mapped to a specific button, trigger or function on the Xbox controller.

“Everyone knew this was a product that Microsoft should make,” Bryce Johnson, inclusive lead for product research and accessibility for Xbox, told Heat Vision.

The original inspiration for the Adaptive Controller came during 2015’s Microsoft One-Week Hackathon, an event where employees develop new ideas and tackle issues with their products. Through a partnership with Warfighter Engaged, an all‐volunteer non-profit that modifies gaming controllers for severely wounded veterans through personally adapted devices, a prototype was put together that would eventually become the Adaptive Controller.

“We had been doing our own stuff for a couple of years before that, making custom adaptive items for combat veterans, and it was kind of a challenge for even the most basic changes, requiring basically taking a controller apart,” Warfighter Engaged founder Ken Jones said. “Microsoft was thinking along the same lines. It was really just perfect timing.”

As development on the project went on, Microsoft began working with other foundations aimed at making gaming more accessible such as AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Craig Hospital, a Denver-area rehabilitation center for spinal cord and brain injuries.

While third-party manufacturers have created more accessible peripheral controllers in the past, Microsoft is the first of the major gaming publishers to make a first-party offering.

“I think we’re always open to exploring new things,” Johnson said of Microsoft developing their own peripherals for the Adaptive Controller. “Right now, I think the challenge is that there is a super large ecosystem of devices that we intentionally supported as part of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and we want people to go out and find that vast array of toggles, buttons, etc. and have those work with that device.”

Continue onto The Hollywood Reporter to read the complete article.

One-Handed Player Shaquem Griffin Makes NFL History With Seahawks Draft

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Shaquem Griffin just made history.

The University of Central Florida linebacker became the first one-handed player to be drafted into the NFL after being picked by the Seattle Seahawks on the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

Griffin — whose twin brother Shaquill also played for UCF and is now a cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks — was born with a congenital birth defect that affected his ability to use his left hand and had the extremity amputated when he was a child because of extreme pain.

Following his pick, which took place in the fifth round, the 22-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, told ESPN that he was speechless from the news.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say. I was trying to get the words out, but I couldn’t talk.”

Griffin had previously told multiple outlets that he expected to be picked up by a team during this year’s draft. But despite making history, the athlete told Today he would rather others not concentrate on his disability.

“One day I’m going to be called ‘Shaquem Griffin the football player’ and not ‘Shaquem Griffin the one-hand wonder,’” he told the outlet. “I don’t need that name. Just call me Shaquem Griffin the football player. I’m good with that.”

Continue onto PEOPLE to read the complete article.

Pinterest Just Redesigned Its App For Blind People

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pinterest on desktop

Here’s how the company confronted its own shortcomings on inclusive design–and systemically redesigned its app for everyone.

Last year, Long Cheng sat down with a group of engineers as they studied people using Pinterest. For Cheng, lead designer at the company, this sort of user testing was commonplace. But that day, something was different. The testers weren’t thirtysomething moms, or whatever stereotypical demographic pops in your head when you picture one of Pinterest’s 200 million users. They were people with a range of visual impairments, from macular degeneration to complete blindness. And Cheng wanted to see how well they could use the app.

To his dismay, many couldn’t even get past the sign-up screen. People literally couldn’t even create an account. While iOS and Android each have an accessibility feature–called Voice Over and Talk Back, respectively–which read aloud the buttons and options on the screen for visually impaired users to navigate, Pinterest had failed to properly label its own user interface for this feature to even work properly. Similarly, when people did eventually get into the app, recipes read aloud would be missing steps or ingredients. People found themselves trapped inside pins, unsure how to escape. Even for partially sighted people, Pinterest design, with its minuscule type, was a challenge to discern.

“It was definitely personal for me, and me specifically. Because I’ve been a designer here for five years, and it’s a product I really love to work on, and I want everyone to be able to use it,” says Cheng. “For the group of engineers and designers sitting there, we felt like we weren’t doing enough. We wanted to do more.”

Blind people using Pinterest–the app for visual inspiration–may sound like an oxymoron. But in fact, Pinterest, like all mainstream apps, has a contingent of blind users (though the company admits to not tracking them). Many use Pinterest simply to bookmark stories on the web they’d like to read later. And those who don’t use the service might like to, if they were better welcomed.

“We asked one user, would you use Pinterest? You can’t see what’s on the screen!” Long recounts. “She said, ‘of course I would.’” Visually impaired or not, we all want tasty recipes, better haircuts, and fashion advice. And Pinterest is loaded with billions of pins full of this stuff.

Over the past year, Pinterest has committed to practicing inclusive design, and making its product more accessible to everyone. With a team of a dozen designers and engineers, Cheng developed a multi-part approach to redesigning Pinterest as a product that could be more accessible to everyone, leading to a fully redesigned app and desktop experience that’s been slowly rolling out for months.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

SUNRISE MEDICAL QUICKIE® Xenon2 – New Ultra Lightweight, High- Performance, Folding Wheelchair Series

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Today, Sunrise Medical announced the launch of its latest high-performance ultra lightweight folding manual wheelchair. The QUICKIE Xenon2 offers all the benefits of QUICKIE’s high-end rigid chairs, now in a folding version. This series brings a sleek look to the portfolio and delivers the ride of a rigid wheelchair with the convenience of folding.

At the core of the Xenon2 is a unique cross-brace that gives the chair a minimalistic, open frame that you would usually associate with a rigid wheelchair. A more forward axle provides greater responsiveness, and a more rearward axle provides greater stability. The combination of the cross-brace and axle provide the stiff, stable driving performance feel of a rigid frame but with all the portability of a folding one. The Xenon2 allows for a custom fit with adjustability to the center of gravity, backrest angle, rear seat height, along with other key areas.

“We are excited to follow up on the successful introduction of 7000 series aluminum and ShapeLoc technology offered in our rigid portfolio by extending the same benefits into our family of folding wheelchairs,” said Jesus Ibarra, Sunrise Medical Associate Product Manager, Manual. “After years of success across Europe, we’re bringing the same proven technology to our North American markets and manufacturing them in our Fresno, California facility.”

Available in three unique frame styles – Fixed Front, Hybrid (Dual Tube), and Swing- Away – this lightweight, high-performance folding series is designed to be adaptable to the changing needs of the user. With its clean and streamlined design, the Fixed Front model is the lightest with a transit weight weighing less than 20 lbs. The Hybrid model is the strongest of the three, and its reinforced fixed front frame allows a maximum user weight capacity of 300 lbs. Its dual tube design reduces flex, giving the chair a more rigid ride and greater push efficiency. The Swing-Away model is designed with a reinforced frame with removable swing-away hangers for easy transfers and has the most compact folded dimensions for easy portability.

For videos, images and additional information on the QUICKIE Xenon2, please visit http://www.sunrisemedical.com.

About Sunrise Medical: A world leader in the development, design, manufacture and distribution of manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, motorized scooters and both standard and customized seating and positioning systems, Sunrise Medical manufactures products in their own facilities in the United States, Mexico, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, China, Holland, Poland, Norway and Canada. Sunrise Medical’s key products, marketed under the QUICKIE, Sopur, Zippie, Breezy, Sterling, Jay, Whitmyer and Switch It proprietary brands, are sold through a network of homecare medical product dealers or distributors in more than 130 countries. The company is headquartered in Malsch, Germany, with North American headquarters in Fresno, Calif., and employs more than 2,180 associates worldwide.

For additional information, please contact Karen Gallik; Karen.Gallik @ sunmed.com

VMI Launches the Most Spacious Accessible SUV on the Market

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Consumers, able-bodied or not, prefer SUVs to minivans at a rate of more than 6:1 based on annual automotive sales reported in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Tim Barone, CEO of Vantage Mobility International (VMI), said “One of VMI’s core values is to never forget the challenges faced by our customers. When we started to explore the possibility of converting an SUV, our core value remained the focal point of our mission as we spoke with wheelchair users and their families to understand their wants and needs.” Barone continued, “We started with people who wanted an accessible SUV, but couldn’t find one that met their needs. During our research, we consistently received feedback that an SUV meant more than style. It meant normalcy. We learned that an SUV itself isn’t enough. The right SUV must have the physical design and practical space to meet our consumers’ specific demands.”

“The introduction of the VMI Honda Pilot Northstar E™ accessible SUV with its innovative manual in-floor ramp offers the perfect combination of simplicity, space and style at a great price,” Barone said. Customers looking for a caregiver vehicle that offers accessibility and sweet style will find this vehicle delivers exceptional wheelchair maneuverability and room for the family. It’s equipped with practical features that put the “utility” in an SUV, such as a ramp that’s easily stowed out of the way, a removable front passenger seat for greater seating flexibility, and plenty of usable storage.

Built into this new SUV from VMI is its exclusive Access360® which sets a new standard for generous wheelchair space and maneuverability. “VMI’s Honda Pilot Northstar E™ SUV boasts more space for large power chairs to enter the vehicle and maneuver comfortably, more flexibility with a removable front seat and confidence that it will deliver a superior experience,” said Barone. VMI’s stated unique features of the product include:

  • Expansive door opening width (33.5 in.) and door height (55.5 in.) to make entry and exit easy.
  • An in-floor ramp which is stowed within the vehicle floor with no squeaking or rattling—keeping dirt and debris out of the vehicle cabin.
  • A wide (32 in.) durable ramp to accommodate large power wheelchairs.
  • Flexible seating lets the wheelchair user sit in the front passenger position or the spacious mid row.
  • An obstruction-free doorway for safe entry and exit without having to deploy the ramp for able-bodied passengers.
  • Overhead, and added floor and door lighting making wheelchair securement easier in lowlight conditions.
  • A rear bench footrest that’s easy to use and offers additional comfort for passengers seated on the rear bench.
  • An extra cargo storage area conveniently incorporated below the rear bench seat.
  • 100% crash tested to all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards governed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration

For more information or to test drive the all-new Honda Pilot Northstar E™ SUV available from VMI, call 855-864-8267 or visit www.myvmisuv.com.

About VMI

Vantage Mobility International (VMI) is a leading manufacturer of wheelchair accessible vehicles built on Toyota, Honda, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) chassis. The company has advanced the mobility industry for 30 years with a robust portfolio of minivan and SUV conversions as well as platform lifts. VMI, based in Phoenix, Arizona, has been awarded the prestigious Toyota Gold Certificate for Quality and its manufacturing facility utilizes Six Sigma techniques to employ continuous process improvements and deliver high quality products for personal use and commercial applications.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Spring 2018 Adaptive Collection Is Here

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For individuals with disabilities, getting dressed in the morning can pose a significant challenge. Fastening buttons, pulling a shirt over one’s head, and shimmying into tight-fitting garments can be next to impossible—and for the most part, no mainstream clothing retailers do anything to help.

In the spring of 2016, Tommy Hilfiger launched a collection of clothes for kids specifically designed for those with disabilities. Instead of buttons, there were clever hidden magnet closures. Necklines expanded with touch fastener closures along the seams. And then in fall of last year, the collection expanded to include pieces for adults.

The spring 2018 Adaptive Collection launches today, with a campaign that features notable figures from the disabled community. There’s Paralympian gold medal track star Jeremy Campbell, motivational speaker Mama Caxx, paraplegic dancer Chelsie Hill and 18-year-old autistic chef Jeremiah Josey.

With learnings from the first collection, this season’s Adaptive Collection has made improvements: Double plackets at the waistline make it easier for those in wheelchairs, bungee cord closure systems replace unwieldy zippers and the Velcro closures got a little better.

Continue onto Elle to read the complete article.

Six Simple Tips for Smooth Travel With a Disability

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Times have changed for travelers who use wheelchairs, are visually or hearing-impaired or have another disability, says Jayne Bliss, a travel adviser with Tzell, who has more than 30 years of experience in planning trips for those with special needs.

“No place is off limits, and hotels, museums and cultural institutions offer more accessibility than ever before,” Ms. Bliss said. Here are some of her tips to travel smoothly with a disability:

Ask Your Airline for Help

Asking your airline for assistance, either at the time of booking or a few days before your trip, will make your time at the airport much easier. Many airlines will designate an employee to meet you curbside when you arrive or at check-in with a wheelchair (if you need one) and guide you through security. You can also request assistance when you land at your destination.

There is usually no charge for this service, but policies vary by airline and may depend on available staff and your disability, so be sure to clarify with your carrier before you fly. Also, many carriers allow guide dogs on board free of charge for passengers who are visually-impaired (as long as you make a reservation for your guide dog at least 48 hours in advance of your flight).

Plan With Your Hotel in Advance

Most hotels in all price ranges welcome travelers with disabilities, according to Ms. Bliss. However, it’s key to give them a heads up about what your needs are if there’s anything specific. If you’re in a wheelchair, for example, get measurements for the front, guest and bathroom doors in advance of your stay. Most hotel concierges will be happy to provide you this information, any many list it online. Ms. Bliss said that some her clients’ wheelchairs are too large for many properties, even if they claim to have accessible rooms and facilities. Also, if you’re visually impaired and find buffet breakfasts or continental breakfast bars challenging, ask your hotel’s concierge to fill your in-room fridge with breakfast items, or deliver them to your room instead.

Work With a Travel Agent

An agent who specializes in working with disabled travelers can arrange every aspect of your trip including booking your airline tickets, tours and restaurants. They can make sure to get the measurements you need, verify the hotels, resorts, or restaurants you’re interested in are accessible, and provide other services to make sure you have a smooth trip and a comfortable stay.

Some of these agents, including Ms. Bliss, don’t charge trip planning fees, and instead make money by booking you with hotels and resorts that are hungry for your business (and ideally, accessible). To find other specialists, consider agencies that have experts on-staff that specialize in accessible travel, like the ones at Travel LeadersNew Directions Travelor Disabled Travelers, among others.

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.