We tend to think of prosthetic limbs as the ultimate solution for people whose disabilities have cost them their arms or legs. As technology advances, much of the research in mobility and functionality has been towards improving these devices, linking them to the nervous system, improving control, attempting to add the sense of touch to the artificial limbs.
Abe Harris, 35, who was born without arms, used to feel that way, but eventually he started to feel like his prosthetics were actually an imposition on his day-to-day life. At the age of 16, he learned to drive without them and put them away for good.
“They were something between me and what I was trying to do,” he says.
He found a new solution in 2011,when he needed to keep up with his 3-year-old daughter on her bicycle. “When she got faster,” he says, “I needed a way to stay with her.”
Not long after he met retired engineer Ray Riley, who volunteers with Cincinnati-based charity May We Help, the solution presented itself. May We Help designs specialized gadgets to increase the independence of people with disabilities, and the organization does it at no cost.
With Harris’ help, Riley was able to modify a bicycle to extend the handlebars and alter the coaster brakes, so that it could be controlled with a person’s legs and trunk of the body.
Riley says, “When he [Harris] came to pick it up, I said, ‘Abe, take it easy.’ But he took off! I was so happy for him.”
May We Help, which was founded in 2005 by three tinkerers, all named Bill, who came together to discuss devices they’d all made for friends and family members with disabilities. The three combined their knowledge, determination, and funding, and they established the charity in 2009. Since then, it has grown from the original three to over 100 volunteers, with a second chapter in Columbus.
They have together created almost 200 custom devices, including cello stands that allow the instruments to be played with the feet, and a communication device and scooter that allows a 10-year-old named Ireland, who cannot walk and needs a computer to talk, to roll around the house and still have her computer at her side.
“Ireland is already different and that’s not going to change,” her mother Amy says, “but this allows her to be a normal kid and for people to see her that way. Bill is an angel that came into our life, and he’s given Ireland more independence than we possibly could. He’s kind of Santa Claus.”
Michelle Sebastian’s son Landon has autism and is deaf, but is obsessed with outer space. Volunteer Dick Gautraud designed a specialized custom-made rocket-ship bed for Landon, who was refusing to sleep in his own bed and had chosen to sleep in a rocket-shaped cardboard box instead.
The bed Gautraud built was amazingly detailed, including boosters, holes cut in the shape of constellations, and whiteboard sides that Landon can decorate with dry-erase markers. “He was very, very excited, bobbing his head back and forth,” Michelle says. “We call that happy head! Getting him to come out is the problem now!”
About May We Help, Michelle has only one thing to say. “I’m so honored to be a recipient of what they do. It warms my heart to know there are people out there like that.”