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Friday, January 6, 2017

Homemade Adaptive Gimplements and Gizmos


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New wheelchair users quickly discover the world is an inconvenient place. Counters are too high, things are constantly out of reach, everything, it seems, is a struggle. Most of us find work-arounds or create tools to deal with these obstacles to living the lives we want. Some of these “gimplements” are as crude as my piece of .75-inch diameter PVC pipe with a wine cork and a clothes hook in one end to flip hard-to-reach switches or to pull things closer. Others are more elaborate and complicated.

Here is a simple gizmo to get your adaptive juices flowing:

Skip Lonie is a carpenter. After a spinal tumor turned him into a T12 para two years ago, a big frustration for him was finding a way to carry his tools around conveniently without having them fall off his lap. A conventional carpenter’s belt wouldn’t work and besides, how could he carry a power drill, a circular saw or a sander and wheel at the same time? His solution is a Container Store metal basket hose-clamped to PVC pipe that slides over his arm rests. The basket stays stable on his lap while he wheels around his shop or Home Depot, the local Safeway or Walgreens.

As with most do it yourself projects, Lonie needed to change, modify and tweak the design a bit along the way. He found his original design too noisy and prone to break down, but after a few modifications he says it worked like a charm.

The Gimp MacGyver

At the other end of the adaptive gizmo spectrum from Lonie you’ll find Brian Johnston — aka “Brain” to wheeler pals back in the day. He is as close to a Gimp MacGyver as I’ve ever run across. He operates with a “there must be a way” mentality that allows this C5 quad of 40-some years to not only live totally independently, but also pursue hobbies and interests that would be demanding and challenging to the most skilled and adventuresome of non-disabled handymen.
He wanted to rebuild vintage mini-bikes and lightweight Harley Davidsons, so he found a way to adapt power tools and other necessities to meet his needs and capabilities, much like he came up with novel solutions and work-arounds to the endless problems quads deal with every day. He built a business around it in the 1980s, hawking his “gimplements” via a mail order business until he began an adventure in real estate — all while finding the time and energy to own and manage an apartment building. He re-invented the business in the 2000s but stopped offering many useful items due to waning demand.
When asked about his most useful and used items, Johnston began with what he sold as “Shut the Door.” The problem, as all wheelers know, is simply shutting a door behind you — a problem especially vexing for quads with limited strength, balance, flexibility and hand dexterity.
“I tried the usual: a shoelace around the door knob, then gripping it with my teeth, but then you’ve got this ugly string on the knob that’s always breaking, so I came up with the Thighmaster,” he explains.
The Thighmaster?

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