New York—Shannon Thomason wanted her son to be able to play with other children in the neighborhood, and go on family bike rides.
But 4-year-old Emmett has cerebral palsy, a disability that has limited his ability to move and talk.
Then Thomason found out about the Adaptive Design Association through her son’s preschool. The nonprofit makes furniture and equipment out of cardboard for children, customizing them to accommodate their disabilities.
For Emmett, the association designed a special bike seat and a chalkboard desk for him to draw on—so he could play with sidewalk chalk along with the other children.
Therapists, classroom teachers, and families can request the association to make all types of equipment.
Designers make personal visits to the child in need, taking measurements and creating mockups before a final version is completed.
To create equipment that builds the child’s strength and makes him or her more comfortable at the same time, designers make adjustments like tilting the seats, and adding footrests, straps, and headrests.
All of the equipment is made with a sturdy triple-layer cardboard material, sliced and glued together using simple tools.
The organization hopes to export this low-tech design method to different parts of the city (it currently operates out of Manhattan), and eventually all over the world.
So far, the organization has initiated projects in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where they have taught locals how to create similar designs.
In the United States alone, there are 2.8 million children who have disabilities that require special accommodations, according to the latest census data.
The inexpensive material makes the furniture accessible to any child, said Carol Gordon, chair of the board.
The designs are also environmentally friendly—in some countries where they don’t manufacture triple-layer cardboard material, the equipment can be made from gluing together multiple layers of recycled cardboard boxes.
Designer Rocío Alonso said that after designing handbags for several years, she wanted to begin a career in designing furniture. When her brother-in-law, a physical therapist, referred her to the association, she was initially hesitant.
“At first, I didn’t want to work with cardboard because the first thing you think about is that it’s garbage,” Alonso said. But she soon realized how meaningful the work was.
“It’s very hands on. A lot of design jobs these days are on the computer,” she said. “On top of that, this is for a good cause.”
At the association’s second annual charity auction Thursday evening, bidders could choose between decorated cardboard chairs designed by 30 different artists. Among the artists was MacArthur genius award recipient Joan Snyder and famed visual artist Mary Frank.
People could also get portraits done by caricaturist Dan Springer for a suggested donation.
Gordon hoped to raise at least $60,000 by the end of the evening. “There are so many kids who need adaptive equipment,” she said. “Their quality of life will be so much better.”
A World Of Difference with Cardboard: Watch the video by Adaptive Design Association