25 Jan This MacArthur Genius Is Improving Disabled Kids’ Lives Using Cardboard and Glue
MacArthur Genius grants are often given to scientists, artists, and other experts. In 2015, Alex Truesdell, the founder of the Adaptive Design Association in New York City, was honored with the award for her work with disabled children.
Truesdell has built a workshop where children with disabilities work with peers, therapists, and engineers to create custom furniture and adaptive equipment. They design chairs, desks, stools, and other equipment they can use at home.
And they do their building with an unlikely materials — a simple piece of triple-ply cardboard, glue, and other basic tools.
“It makes the child, one, believe in their own capacity, and then everyone who knows and loves the child believe in what they’re able to do. I think it upends the prognosis, because, so often, unfortunately, the word disability signals broken, can’t, isn’t,” Truesdell told PBS this January.
This certified “genius” wants the ADA to become an easily replicable model, one that she hopes will spread to schools and cities all over the world. Already, the idea has spread to six locations in the United States, as well as countries as far away as Peru and Romania.
So how does the workshop work? Take the case of Austin, a 21-month-old boy with major motor development issues. He has trouble keeping up with his siblings and friends during playtime, so the design center is helping him build a custom chair that will allow him to better build strength and participate in activities.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, about one in 26 U.S. families said they had raised children with special needs. That means that out of 53.9 million children aged five to 17, at least 2.8 million had a disability as of 2010. With autism rates on the rise as well, many children require special instruction at school, home care, or support from medical professionals.
Many working class families struggle to keep up with the costs of paying for medical care, and may not know how to access services like Medicaid home modification. While case management services can help children with special needs access the quality care and medical professionals they deserve, it’s encouraging to see new ideas for helping these vulnerable young people.