For people who use wheelchairs, everyday physical-labor tasks like cutting the grass, digging a garden bed, or shoveling a snowy walkway can present an overwhelming challenge. It’s inspiring when a group of people who notice this sort of challenge come together and use ingenuity, technology, and engineering skills to help a person with disabilities overcome those hurdles.
Last year, a group of students at the College of the North Atlantic in Newfoundland did just that for one of their classmates with the help of their instructor.
In 2010, engineering student Michael Johnson was involved in a car accident with a transport truck. The accident robbed Johnson of the use of his legs and confined him to a wheelchair. Like so many who see their lives utterly changed in one tragic moment, he refused to be limited by his injury and was determined to continue to live an independent life. But, like so many who live with disabilities, he sometimes found the challenges overwhelming and painstaking. Among those challenges was the task of shoveling snow out of his driveway every winter.
“Chopping the snow down and throwing it out, chopping the snow down and throwing it out,” he said. “Then I had to go chop the snow around my driveway so I wouldn’t pile it up so I couldn’t see over it.”
Johnson’s neighbor, Jerry Smith, noticed the struggles. “I used to look out through my window and see Michael doing his driveway in a wheelchair with a scoop,” he said. “And I thought that there must be some way that we can make something up for him better than that.”
Smith, a millwright instructor at the College of the North Atlantic, came up with the idea of adapting a snow blower in such a way that would allow Johnson to operate it from his wheelchair. His early concept designs didn’t work out as planned, so Smith brought the idea to his class, and they came up with an astoundingly simple innovation.
“Basically,” said student Stephan Caines, “we fabricated a hitch to connect the slide to the blower itself, made up a plate to screw on the bottom of the snow blower to connect the hitch to.”
The innovation enabled Johnson to tear right through the snow without spending hours in the cold, struggling to clear a driveway full of snow, and then to clear the piles that build up around the driveway. “This is gonna cut down significantly on the time,” Johnson said. “Because now I can wake up at a reasonable time in the morning, get out and blow my snow before I get to school.”
Smith was just happy he could be of assistance. “There is nothing no better. It’s beautiful,” he said. “To be able to see somebody operate that, and make their life easier? Perfect.”
Watch what happened when this community came together to use basic ingenuity and skill to help a friend with a disability live a more convenient lifestyle! What piece of equipment would you like adapted for use with a wheelchair?