How a new seating solution has been a game changer for paddlers with disabilities.
Reflecting back on 2017, I’d like to acknowledge one of our customers who has made a difference in the lives of people with disabilities and challenged The Canvas Works to be part of a very meaningful project. That customer is Environmental Traveling Companions and Diane Poslosky, Executive Director of ETC.
I remember the day Diane came to our shop for the first time in late 2015. She wanted new cushions for ETC’s beautiful Camp on the American River. Before she left the shop that day, she casually mentioned another project involving accessible boat seating for ETC’s rafting and sea kayaking programs. In a nutshell, the abridged story below is how ETC came to partner with The Canvas Works.
It’s difficult to properly introduce this collaborative and beneficial project without an introduction to ETC and a little back story.
Environmental Traveling Companions was founded back in 1972 by three commercial river rafting guides. Today, ETC provides life-changing outdoor programs to over 3,000 people every year – people with visual or mobility impairments, developmental disabilities, cancer and other life-threatening illness, and under-resourced youth. Their programs are made possible with the expertise and enthusiasm of over 200 highly trained volunteers and generous donors. ETC offers rafting, sea kayaking, cross country skiing and youth leadership programs. The organization is a national pioneer in the field of accessible outdoor adventures and is respected as the largest and oldest organization of its kind in California. Since its founding, more than 86,000 people have joined ETC for an adventure in the great outdoors! Learn more about ETC!
ETC has over 90 partners to date. In the summer of 2015, Diane received a call from one of those partners. It was Ron Hamilton, Operations Manager of United Cerebral Palsy of The North Bay. United Cerebral Palsy and Tikkun Olam Makers were collaborating with Google.org for the Bay Area Makeathon, an event created to tackle accessibility challenges. The long weekend would bring together people with and without disabilities who are designers, technologists and makers to collaborate on new, adaptive solutions. Ron knew Diane and the ETC team had years of experience exploring the natural world alongside people with all types of abilities, so he asked Diane if she had any ideas for new accommodations that would open river and bay adventures to more people with disabilities. Indeed she did!
“What if there was an all-in-one, adjustable and adaptive seating system that could allow people with mobility impairment to comfortably and safely sit and paddle in a sea kayak or raft?” Diane Polosky.
They wanted to explore this question firsthand! So, along with kayaking volunteers with disabilities who knew access implications firsthand, Diane and Oren Frey, manager of ETC’s Sea Kayak Program, agreed to participate in the 72 hour challenge to turn their idea into reality.
In a whirlwind of preparation, Diane took an industrial sewing class, they attended a Google Glass technology orientation meeting, they researched materials like plastics and Therm-a-Rest pads, pondered design ideas and gathered input from people with disabilities. By the end of the epic three-day event, their idea had come to fruition and they introduced the first iteration of their seating solution. What now? Well, it needed testing.
In 2016, ETC had a chance to put their chair to the test on a rafting expedition in the Grand Canyon. Diane invited Josh Hancock, an environmental engineer and a paraplegic, to field test the chair with her on the mighty Colorado River. Diane and Josh were acquainted at the No Barriers Summit in Utah the year before. Josh was impressed and optimistic about the chair but gave Diane some valuable feedback to improve it. Wishing to implement these changes, Diane and Oren created a refined model. At this point they were excited about the possibilities but limited by lack of time and fabrication skills. Then they found The Canvas Works.
Diane and Oren showed up at our shop with their new prototype. We excitedly agreed to fabricate twelve fully functioning chairs appropriately named, The Adventure Maker Chair. Thanks to a grant from The Bothin Foundation that would help to underwrite the costs, ETC was able to bring The Adventure Maker Chair vision to life.
Over the course of almost a year, there were lots of changes, as would be expected for something so custom. The Canvas Works team worked closely with Diane and Oren to adapt, adjust, replace, connect and fine tune the chair. Many factors had to be taken into account including safety, weight, size and adjustability. Each chair was made from marine Sunbrella, Teflon thread, PVC reinforcements and heavy duty straps and buckles to withstand constant wear and tear. The chairs were adaptable for rafting or sea kayaking and included soft inflatable seat and arm pads with adjustable straps. For added strength and rigidity, the chairs had removable plastic inserts and battens. Seeing the finished version of the chair was an exciting and proud moment for both ETC and TCW!
The last phase of the project involved getting the twelve chairs completed for ETC’s participation in the No Barriers Summit at Lake Tahoe in June of 2017. ETC sponsored Adaptive Rafting and Sea Kayaking programs for the Summit: kayaking on Lake Tahoe and whitewater rafting on the Truckee River. This was a perfect opportunity to test drive The Adventure Maker Chair with dozens of people with disabilities from around the country. And test they did! The Adventure Maker Chair was a huge success and the feedback we received from paddlers with range of disabilities made all the efforts worth it!
David Gomez, visiting California from Ecuador, tried out ETC’s Adventure Maker Chair on the Truckee River at the No Barriers Summit. He shares “As I can’t walk, the Adventure Maker provided great accommodation. The position and height of the chair gave me an almost 360 degree view. Thank you for this life changing experience–thank you for helping me to reach my summit.” See more of the thoughts and reactions from Summit participants here: READ TESTIMONIALS
A little afterthought.
With the success of this chair, it was hard to believe that something like this did not already exist. Of course Diane and her team would love to see the chair get more widespread use as well as share it with other outdoor adventure companies around the country.
In the process of creating the seating, we all learned that something which seems so simple can be very involved. Diane and her team have great ambition and know it takes a village.
They all have a huge appreciation for the creative mind and are grateful to the thinkers, creators, need knowers and makers who were involved in developing the Adventure Maker Chair. Together we are making the great outdoors and adventures that transform the human spirit, open to all!