This Group of Volunteers Creates Custom Assistive Devices for People With Disabilities
A switch-operated TV remote, a tool to turn the pages of a book, a steering device to help a girl with limited muscle strength operate a wheelchair, bars that allow a boy to sit up by himself at the dinner table, a machine that swings a baseball bat, a modular stroller, and even remote-controlled Super Soakers.
They’re all devices that have been customized for individuals with disabilities by May We Help, an Ohio-based nonprofit whose volunteers design and create personalized assistive equipment.
Other projects featured on the May We Help website include a rig designed to allow a woman with no hand movement to paint using her feet, custom steps that help a girl with spina bifida climb into bed, modified bicycle handlebars crafted for a man with limb differences, and a rocking sensory chair designed to help an 8-year-old boy on the autism spectrum concentrate and relax.
In its 10 years of existence, the organization, which bills its goal as “creating independence,” has produced about 600 such devices. Now with a team of 70 volunteers who come from all types of professional backgrounds – including engineers, industrial designers, machinists, seamstresses and therapists – May We Help aims to provide solutions that allow those with disabilities new ways to engage with the world around them.
“Our projects give people with disabilities hope and, in many cases, independence for at least one small portion of their complicated lives,” Bill Sand, one of May We Help’s co-founders, told The Mighty.
Sand, a engineer with 40 years of work experience, joined with two others to form May We Help, which officially gained nonprofit status a few years ago. Thanks to grants and individual donors, the devices come free of charge to the recipients, who apply for consideration through the May We Help website. If a project is accepted, a team of volunteers works with the recipient to design a suitable solution.
Sand says recipients are frequently moved by the finished product. That’s especially true of parents, who often cannot find existing equipment that fits their child’s needs – or cannot afford to purchase it.
“It gives them the hope and the joy that someone out there is listening to them,” Sand said. “Many times just talking to a parent about what they need shows the parent we care and that, to get something, they do not have to jump through hoops, fill out forms and deal with bureaucracy.”
While May We Help was founded in Cincinnati, its staff shipped projects to 20 states in 2015. Sand hopes the organization, which recently expanded to include a Columbus chapter, will spread nationally and perhaps even worldwide.
In the meantime, Sand said he’ll keep at work in the May We Help shop on one of the over 100 projects he’s had a hand in.