Accessing Potential Through Assistive Technology
Gifting Guide Day 22: Adapted Sailing Products

It wouldn’t be a gift-giving season without a request for sailing gear or boat parts. There is no such thing as a day wasted on the water, and there is nothing like sailing in a stiff breeze to clear one’s mind and calm one’s soul.

Man sailing a sip and puff controlled sailboat with crew.

Any boat can be adapted, sailed, and raced by people with various disabilities. I remember watching Nick Scandone win the gold medal for the USA with his teammate Maureen McKinnon-Tucker sailing a SCUD-18 in the 2008 Paralympic Games. Nick, who had ALS, was sailing as a Classification 1, the most severe mobility limitation. He drove the boat, and had the highest tech setup I’ve ever seen on an adapted sailboat. Incidentally, Nick is also the only Paralympic sailor to win the US Sailing’s Yachtsman of the Year.

Visit for interviews with adapted sailors.

Type 1 Personal Floatation Device with neck support designed to turn a person face up in the water.

Safety First

One of the essential pieces of sailing gear is an excellent Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life jacket. Type 1 PFDs provide the most floatation, and most will turn an unconscious person face-up out of the water. A Type 1 PFD is what we would recommend for someone with limited motor function, poor coordination, or for sailing in extreme conditions. Many mainstream retailers sell this type of device, such as West Marine:–type-i-comfort-deluxe-life-jacket–15911373?recordNum=3 . There are also some specialty companies, such as Lifejackets Adapted (, that sell PFDs for people with specific needs.

Wetsuit that has been adapted for a person with a left left amputation.

What to Wear

Some sailors like to wear wetsuits depending on where and what type of boat they sail. Wetsuits help insulate and retain heat when sailing in wet boats (racing dighys) in cold waters, such as when “frostbite” sailing. A wetsuit needs to be tight and fit properly to work, which can be difficult for some people with disabilities. There are specialty companies that can modify wetsuits to fit based on their needs, such as Terrapin Wetsuits ( out of Texas. Check them out if you enjoy sailing in cold weather (or diving or surfing) and need help getting a wetsuit that fits.

Power linear actuator attached to a modified tiller, which is a stick that attached to the boat's rudder and controls its direction.

High Tech Driving

This article explains how the tiller, which is what controls the rudder and thus the direction of a sailboat, can be adapted for control with a joystick or sip-n-puff system. It is essentially a weatherproof linear actuator and electronics connected to a modified tiller.

Sip-n-Puff /Joystick Tiller Steering:

Example of a solid captains seat with lateral side supports that could be added to a boat with seat belt for a person with poor leg and trunk support.

Comfortable and Secure Seating

Another idea for people with limited leg and trunk support is to install fixed seats with seat belts or straps into the cockpit of a keel boat. A non-folding high back helm seat, such as: , could be a good choice.

Fixed captain’s seat that could be used to adapt a sailboat:

Hold Fast!

Like grab bars in a bathroom, sail boats have hand holds and rails all over the place to aid sailors in getting around the boat in rough seas or when the boat is healing over. Adding a handrail in strategic locations can  be very helpful in crossing the boat during a tack. Other tricks, like adding extra handles or wearing gloves with extra grip will aid people with poor grip strength in getting to the high side.

Stability Bar:

Common back saver shovel handle, designed to attach to shovels and other garden tools, can be added to a sailboat to create additional hand holds.

Adapted shovel handle or extension handle can be attached to rails, lifeline stanchions, or to the deck itself to provide extra purchase or something to hold onto with a closed fist. Sand Scoop Shovel Handle: or Just be sure to pick non-corrosive materials, and swap out any steel nuts and bolts for stainless steel.

Inexpensive polyester garden gloves dipped in rubber coating can provide a great deal of grip for sailors who need help holding on.

Not only can a good set of sailing gloves protect your hands from rope burn, but they can siginfcantly improve your grip. I’ve gone through a lot of gloves in my day. I’d say Zhik has the best full finger grip gloves out there. Extra grippy sailing gloves:

I also know people who pick up in expensive garden gloves that are dipped in a rubberized coating. They are thicker, very grippy, and a 3 pack can be purchased for under $10. Just make sure you get rid of them before they wear through.

Gifting Guide Day 21: Adapted Clothing

As a child, do you remember waking up on Christmas morning, running downstairs, and opening all your presents, hoping they were stuffed with new shirts, socks, and brand new undies! Yeah, me neither. But as an adult now, I appreciate some new socks that don’t have holes in them and a nice oxford shirt or work pants that are stylish and fit well. For people with disabilities, finding clothing that is easy to don if you have difficulty with your hands and is stylish AND looks properly fit, especially when using a wheelchair, can be difficult. There are a variety of specialty clothing companies that make clothing that is easy to put on, fasten, and some even are fit, especially for those who use wheelchairs.

Eric LeGrand, former Rutgers football player, with clothing designer Mindy Scheier.

For a short TED talk on how clothing empowers people with disabilities, visit:

Please note: We do not endorse any of these companies. There are many companies that provide accessible clothing. This is just a short list.

Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive:

Image of people with disabilities wearing fashion from Tommy Hilfiger

Tommy Hilfiger manufactures stylish clothing with easy closure options, fit for prosthetics, fit for a seated position, sensory-friendly fabrics, and suitable for people with various disabilities. On their website they state: “These are clothes that look good, feel good, and with the help of innovative design twists, deliver more effortless dressing for people with disabilities.”
Contact information is available on website at:


Silverts has an online clothing catalog that allows you to shop by need. They have clothing separated into categories for people such as those with amputations, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, ALS, and dementia. They have even listed clothing for people who are dressed by a care giver.
Phone: 1-800-387-7088

Zappos Adaptive:

Zappos Adapted website, with a woman in a manual wheel chair wearing easy to put on boots.

Many people are familiar with the large online shoe retailer Zappos. What most people don’t know is that Zappos Adaptive was created in 2017 based on customer feedback to sell shoes for people with special needs. They have a collection of specialised products, including easy on/off shoes, shoes that are AFO friendly, and diabetic shoes, as well as undergarments and seated clothing.
Call Zappos 1-800-927-7671
Text Zappos (833) 927-7898

Billy Footwear:

Screenshot of Billy Footwear website, showing their special flip top zipper shoes.

Billy Footwear focuses on universally designed shoes. One of the founders has a spinal cord injury, and decided to redesign shoes to meet his needs. Their footwear incorporates zippers that go along the side of the shoe all the way to the toe. This allows the top of the top of the shoe to open up completely.
Contact information can be found at:

Ministry of Supply:

Screenshot from website showing a professionally dressed woman wearing the pants while using a wheelchair.

Ministry of Supply is another mainstream online retailer that has a selection of professional adapted clothing for adults. They offer “Kinetic Adaptive Pants” for men and women that are designed and tested to fit properly and be comfortable for people who use wheelchairs. The fabric is designed to stretch as needed while maintaining a sharp and professional look. The company will also reimburse the cost of hemming pants with up to $25 of store credit.

Gifting Guide Day 20: Workshop DIY Gifts

Holiday Gifting Guide: DIY Assistive Technology Gifts

Nothing beats a holiday gift that someone has taken the time to make just for you! We have a whole lot of creative problem solvers and makers around our office and workshop, and many of us turn to the Instructables website for ideas on how to help people with disabilities.

Two rehabilitation engineers making a custom chair by grinding parts to shape in the rehabilitation engineering workshop.

Here is a sample of some projects that  you could make (or ask Santa to make) as assistive technology.

Motorized Light Bulb Changer:

DIY motorized light bulb changer from the Instructables website.

This project was developed by a gentleman who needed a way to change lightbulbs from a 2 story high chandelier, but someone in a wheelchair or of short stature could benefit from such a device. It contains a small motor, some other light electrical parts, some 3D printed parts, and a painter’s pole.

PVC Therapy Trike:

Volunteer build PVC tricycle being ridden by a child with special needs.

Instructions to build this child’s adapted tricycle were posted by volunteers for the Utah Assistive Technology Program. The adapted trike can be built for around $400 in materials, and is designed for children form ages 2 to 5 years, weighing under 50 pounds. Parts can be purchased from your local hardware store, or a kit can be purchased from .

Child’s Coloring Table:

DIY paper roll coloring table from the Instructables website.

I mentioned in a previous post how beneficial a table that holds rolled paper can be for children and adults with disabilities who which to draw, color, or paint. This project shows how one maker converted an old side table into an inexpensive coloring table.

WheeStroll- Wheelchair Stroller Attachment:

Man with DIY wheelchair mounted baby carrier, make from electrical conduit and an infant car seat.

This is a really neat project where a maker designed a system to attach an infant car seat to a wheelchair. The design combines off the shelf parts with some 3D printed brackets, and in beautiful in it’s simplicity.

Wheelchair Accessible Planter:

Home build wheelchair accessible garden planter

These plans show how to build a planter that was used at a community garden for wheelchair accessibility. I like that it is deeper than most other designs I have seen, but still provide for knee space due to the way the bottom slopes. It is a nice design.

Doorbell Room Light:

Woman who is deaf with a doorbell light flasher while her son is outside trying to get her attention.

This project was developed by a young man whose parents could not hear the door bell ring. The standard wireless door bell flasher was not working, so he decided to make something that would flash the room lights. This is a great project for someone who wants to learn more about electronics, programming, and soldering.

Guitar Tuner for People who are Blind:

Electronic guitar tuner that has been modified for people who are blind.

This is another great electronics project where a commercially available electronic guitar tuner has been modified with an Arduino microcontroller to change the visual output on the tuner to be played as tones through an earpiece.

Keep on Making!

Rehabilitation engineer Michael Papp displaying a custom made wood turning gouge with extra long handle.

I’ve always enjoyed making things in the workshop, and I have found common products can be easily tweaked to improve their form and fit for specific individuals. For example, I can make tool handles on chisels, screw drivers, and hammers thicker for some one with dexterity issues or arthritis. I can make wood turning gouges with longer handles for someone who might need to use a lathe while sitting in a wheelchair. Sometimes making your own assistive devices is the only way to meet a specific person’s need.

I could go on and on about all the cool projects on the Instructables website. It has something for every type of maker, whether you cook, sew, enjoy woodworking, gardening, electronics, programming, and especially for teachers.

Gifting Guide Day 16: Adapted Art Supplies
Lucy the dachshund/shepherd mix dog finishing off her latest painting.

I don’t know about your house, but around here, everyone from Grandma to the dog likes to be creative, and so art supplies are a common gift during the holiday season. Here are some art ideas for children and adults with disabilities.

Do A Dot Art! Markers

Two Children Playing with Do A Dot Art Markers

These bright and extra thick washable markers are very easy to grip. The extra thick sponge tip never dries out and makes perfect dots every time. The ink dries quickly and are gluten and latex-free.

These markers are designed to help children learn to develop eye-hand coordination and color recognition.

The Pencil Grip Kwik Stix Paint Pens

Child drawing a snowman with Kwick Stix paint sticks

Kwick Stix are tempera paint sticks that take the mess out of painting while allowing children to explore their artistic side. The paint is semisolid and twists  out of the pen, similar to a glue stick. The paint is washable, non-toxic, and assorted sets are available online.

Kid Made Modern Gem Jackpot Crayon Set

Grinning child coloring with yellow gem shaped crayon.

These large, gem shaped crayons are are easy to grip, and can be used to draw lines or fill in large areas of color. They work no matter how they are being held, so there is no wrong way to use them.

Art Desks with integrated Paper Roll

Two children drawing on paper unrolled on child sized art table.

Aside from gripping your markers, crayons, or paints, holding the paper in place can also be challenging for children. Art paper can be taped down to aid in holding it in place. A desk with an integrated paper roll holder makes it much easier for kids to get creating. While any old desk can easily be modified with a paper roll holder and platen, there are a variety of desks for children and adults that integrate this feature. Large sheets of paper provide more space to get creative, and children who have better gross motor skills have plenty of space to work.

Paper Roll Holder:

Paper Roll Art Table:

Paper Roll Desk:

Loop Scissors

Person gripping a pair of yellow loop safety sissors.

Called squeezy scissors by some, these ergonomic scissors help those with poor fine motor function or problems such as arthritis by automatically opening back up after each cut. Available with safety tips for kids, there are also sharper versions for adults for sewing, crafting, and general household use. There are also sewing scissors and garden shears available with a self opening spring.

Squeezy scissors for children:

Loop scissors for adults:

No Spill Paint Cups

Green no spill paint cup with green paint brush and green cap

No spill paint cups have a cap that prevents spills and messes. The funnel-shaped cap aids in getting the brush into the paint, and work well with tempura and other non-toxic paints. An additional cap can fit over the funnel top so that the paint can be easily reused.

Gifting Guide Day 15: Charlie Mae’s First Day
Front cover of Charlie Mae's First Day by Hanna Wilson

An extraordinary picture book for preschoolers that encourages kindness and acceptance of children with different abilities! Like the endearing main character of this book, some children may appear to be much different and end up having more in common with their peers than anticipated. Inspired by real life Charlie Mae, this story was initially written to aid as an introduction to her kindergarten class. It’s transformation comes with a deep desire to serve as a tool to not only spread awareness at a pivotal age, but present a feeling of belongingness to kids and families like Charlie’s.

Charlie May’s first day is available at, along with the story of the real Charlie Mae, activity sheets for preschoolers, and and informational video explaining epilepsy to preschoolers. There is also additional information available on their Facebook page at:

Charlie Mae’s first day was written by Hannah Wilson, a resident of Chilton County. Wilson wrote the book from the perspective of her daughter. She had decided to write the book in the summer of 2000 as a resource that could be used by other special needs families. Wilson said, “My dream for it is for it to make its way to all the families like ours, I feel like it would just mean a lot to them.” Visit for more information on the inspiration behind the book.

Holiday Gifting Guide Day 13: Bidet Seat
Alpha JX Bidet Toilet Seat with remote control installed in a bathroom

A bidet is a specialized bathroom fixture for cleaning yourself after using a toilet. While popular throughout the world, bidet fixtures still see limited use in the United States. Bidets may be a separate bathroom fixture that looks like a small wash basin next to a commode or may be a bidet toilet seat or a handheld bidet wand.

Bidets greatly aid in cleaning your backside after elimination, especially for people who have difficulty using toilet paper. Handheld bidet wands are the least expensive option, and require the user to manually clean their posterior. Cost of a bidet wand ranges from $50 to $150.

Bidet toilet seats are more expensive, but can do the job automatically, and this is typically what our rehabilitation engineers recommend when doing bathroom modifications. Bidet toilet seats cost from $300 to $1000+ depending on options. Reasonably priced models around $400 have features such as heated water, heater seat, different washing functions, automatic washing, heated air drying, remote controls, and may even have a night light around the rim. More expensive models have motorized lids and advanced cleaning functions.

I like to have hands-on experience with any assistive technology that I recommend, and so I purchased an Alpha JX  Bidet Toilet Seat for a round bowl, cost around $340, a few years ago from . This device has all of the must have features at a reasonable price. Based on experience, I have the following suggestions and observations. The bidet seat is larger than a standard toilet seat, making the opening smaller. If at all possible, I would recommend only installing a bidet seat on an elongated the toilet. The seats for round bowl toilets are smaller than most people are used to, but this may be a benefit for smaller users.  The heated water is a must have, and the automatic cleaning feature is highly recommended. I would recommend a seat with a remote control for anyone with mobility problems, as the remote can be placed or secures somewhere easily accessible. People like the heated seat, especially when the weather is cold. A quick, pre wipe for people with soft stool is recommended for a more complete clean. Be sure to measure the space from the toilet seat bolt holes to the back of the tank before ordering; as I mentioned before the bidet seat is larger than a standard toilet seat and may not fit all toilets. It takes longer to use the bidet seat than toilet paper alone, as the dry function may take a minute or two to cycle through. So bring some good reading material! Over all, bidet seats, especially when combine with a sheet or two of toilet paper, will result in better clean. And they make a huge difference in independence for people who are unable to reach to clean themselves at all.

 For a more detailed description and tips on using a bidet seat, visit

Gifting Guide Day 12: Robotic Vacuums

As someone who spent a few summers as a professional cleaner, I now avoid it whenever possible. When the first Roomba robotic vacuum came out, I was skeptical but intrigued. I bought my first one in 2007. It was a Roomba 560, the third generation, and many of the kinks of earlier models had been fixed. I have been impressed, as that vacuum is still going strong. I’ve replaced the brushes, filters, and battery, but it still works as well as when I bought it. Over the years, I’ve added to my fleet of cleaning robots, including two Scoobas (robo mops) and a Samsung PowerBot9000. The Samsung is a better cleaner, but it has some problems charging, and getting reasonably priced parts is impossible.

Well Used Samsung Powerbot and iRobot Roomba vacuums

While robotic vacuums are not as effective at cleaning as a push or canister vacuum, they are easy to use if you don’t have the time or ability to vacuum, and the way I see it, if you run the robot three times a week, your house will be much cleaner than if you only pull out the push vac once a month. Some of the higher-end models can even empty themselves.

One major caveat; if you have pets, you better be sure there hasn’t been an accident before the robot runs. It will make a mess and may damage the robot.

Some robots move methodically across the floor, leaving those nice straight vacuum lines (like my PowerBot). Others move randomly (like my Roomba) and leave a random pattern the carpet. There is no visual difference if you use on hard floors, but if you like lines, look for one that vacuums in a grid pattern.

Some vacuums have smartphone apps. I’ve never had one like that, but if you want to set your vacuum off from work, that might be a feature worth the price. Another feature is a scheduler. Before I had pets, I had the robot automatically vacuum a few times a day while working. Now that I have pets, that is a big no-no. Some robots work better on hard floors vs. carpet. Both the Samsung and Roomba I have worked fine on either surface. Another nice feature is side brushes. Side brushes will allow the robot to clean along the edge of the room and closer around furniture. My Roomba has side brushed, and my Samsung does not. There is a definite difference in that the side brushes definitely clean more area. I also like it when the vacuum can find its way back to the dock to recharge. Some robots, like the Roomba, need extra sensors (called a lighthouse) to find their ways back when it does multiple rooms. Another cool but pricy feature is automatic dust bin emptying into a docking station.  I never minded emptying the dust bin, but if you find it difficult to do every time it runs, auto empty may be worth the price.

As I can’t possibly buy and review every piece of technology out there, I maintain a subscription to Consumer Reports to get an unbiased opinion on what the best products are each year.

Robotic vacuums vary in price from $200 to $1000. But the more expensive devices don’t always clean better. Some of the best ones, according to CR, include the Eufy RoboVac 11, the LG Hom-Bot CR5765, the Samsung Powerbot Limited Edition Darth Vader and Storm Trooper editions(Really? Where is Gonk?), and the Samsung Powerbot SR20H9051, the Ecovacs Deebot M88, and the tried and true iRobot Roomba S9+. The prices on these robots run from $250 to $900, depending on features.

I highly recommend finding a good robotic vacuum. Just be sure to pick one that has the features you need.

Crown Side Up!

Written By: Michael Papp
Posted: 10/6/2021

Tips for Installing Ramp Decks

We frequently revisit old wheelchair ramp and landing installations to replace rotten-out deck boards. The combination of heat and moisture in the south is especially tough on wood. Ramps that are painted or have an opaque stain or sealant will hold up much longer, but you can do a simple thing when you build a ramp to increase the life of the decking significantly: Install the boards crown side up!

Image of deck board installed on ramp that is cupping, or bending upward.
Boards that are installed crown side down will cup, encouraging water to sit on the wood longer, causing it to rot out faster.

The crown is the curvature of the board that you will see when looking down its narrow edge. Lumber from freshly cut wood will cup toward the bark side as it dries. Cut lumber that is kiln-dried, then milled to its final size, will cup away from the bark side.

When building a ramp, you will most likely use plain-sawn kill-dried lumber, such as 5/4 (Five Quarter) deck board, which will tend to form a cup or crown. In the photo above, the board was cut from the tree’s center, as you can see the round rings in the wood grain. The wood is cupping away from the center of the tree toward the bark side.

Illustration of 3 pieces of lumber viewed from the end: One flat, one installed bending down, and one installed bending upward.
Kiln dried plane sawn lumber fresh from the mill is flat. Lumber will cup over time when exposed to weather. Lumber installed crown side up will shed water. Lumber installed cup side up with hold water and rot faster.

When boards are installed crown side down, like the board in the photo, it will warp over time to hold water on the deck surface longer, which encourages rot. An installer that takes the time to glance at the end of each board before securing it can install the crown side up. If the board cups, it will encourage water to drain off the surface, prolonging the life of your ramp. Boards with grain almost vertical through the wood (quartersawn) are more stable and installed either side up.

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