Sharing Adaptive Equipment Experiences and Ideas
By: Brian Elliott
There are many things that can be frustrating to deal with on a daily basis. At the top of the list for myself as a Quadriplegic, is the lack of function within my hands. So much of my time, energy, and frustration could be spared if only I could use my hands the “normal” way. Especially when it comes to both reaching/picking up items and also holding objects in my hands and moving them against resistance. As much as I tried to remain active and independent using exercise equipment or doing household tasks, I encountered the recurring challenge of things being out of my range and then the ability to keep the item(s) in my hands and being functional. I needed a tool that would allow me to independently reach and pickup items out of range from my wheelchair and also a tool or technique that would hold objects in my hand securely and not slip out. Luckily, that’s where some simple equipment came into play. Through a series of trials and errors with an Occupational Therapist (OT), I was introduced to a grabber/reacher for people without typical hand strength and recently bought some gloves/wraps for my hands to securely hold objects while I work out or try other activities.
Most reacher’s are designed for people with “normal” hands. You simply squeeze and the reacher squeezes the ends together, grabbing the object at the end between prongs. However, without hands to function that way, how could I use a grabber/reacher? I tried using the standard reacher but combos of small handles, no finger movement, and awkward positioning lead to more fails and drops of the reacher. Then I needed a different reacher to get the original reacher I dropped on the floor. The reacher the OT proposed for me used wrist extension (bending at the wrist and bringing the top of your hand back up towards the elbow) to close and grasp objects. Thanks to this design, I’m able to do numerous tasks that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible for me to easily do independently. Such as reaching into a laundry washer or dryer to grab clothes, reach up into a closet, or picking items off of the floor when I drop them. Which is often, I drop something nearly every day and the grabber comes in handy!
Next, I needed something that would securely hold items in my hand against resistance. When I would workout at a physical therapy clinic I would need a worker to wrap my hand around handles or weights with elastic wraps so I could do the exercise. Which technically worked most of the time. Sometimes the wraps wouldn’t hold, or I could have a finger inadvertently curled over which could be problematic. But, I couldn’t take the worker(s) with me everywhere for those scenarios and once I was done, I was literally stuck to the machine/equipment until someone could come and unwrap me. I wanted something I could get on and off by myself.
I found these “gloves” that use two thick Velcro straps with rings at the end to wrap around your wrist and then pull over your hand to create a fist with the handle or object in your palm securely. Using these, I can slip a finger in the ring and pull the strap tight around my wrist and hand. I have been able to work out without fear of dropping weights onto the floor (or myself), as well as trying them out with golf clubs and using a hammer. These “gloves” have been a great way to remain independent and active.
The last little aide I have found to be useful in many different spots have been simple carabiners. The larger open space is better for me than small circles in terms of ease and daily use. Mainly used on zippers for my backpacks or on my keys as a simple and cheap D-ring that I can lace a finger into and pull. Works great for hanging my keys on a brake lever, quickly being able to get a finger into position to pull a zipper, or easily grabbing with my reacher. I found the smaller key rings to be too small for me to use quickly and easily, and more difficult to try to use for picking up the items I drop. Nice to find a cheap fix when all the other gear that is “specialized” for people with disabilities tends to come with a higher price tag.
What about you? Have you tried any of the examples I provided? What were your experiences? Do you have any equipment you can share that has made a difference in your daily life? Any equipment that you have tried and want to try again or ideas that people should design to make life easier? The best advice on gear and life hacks come from others with disabilities. Help share the knowledge or any hacks you have developed over the years that others can try in their lives. If you have photos or tips on gear and want to share with others; leave a comment and email them to Brian@disabilityconnect.org.