Organization Helps Children with Disabilities Adapt with Custom-Fit Furniture


Adaptive Design Association is a New York City nonprofit that designs and makes custom adaptations for children with disabilities. Because adaptive technology is usually so expensive, ADA makes low-tech and affordable adaptations out of materials as cheap as cardboard and glue. With custom-fit adaptations as simple as a cardboard chair or a customized bicycle seat, a child who struggles to sit up and swallow on his own can eat at the table with his parents, unassisted, for the first time, or a girl who has never ridden a bicycle because her body doesn’t fit in mass-produced child seats can feel the wind in her hair.


ADA’s mission is one deeply rooted in social justice and efforts to help people on the margins. Truesdell’s work with ADA endeavors to change how we think about disabilities and to show that they are an obstacle that can be conquered through human ingenuity and effort. Reflecting its commitment to social justice-oriented work, ADA trains and employs women re-entering the workforce through alternatives to incarceration programs. ADA doesn’t copyright its techniques and has worked to ensure open access to its methods for anyone who wishes to learn, actively encouraging and supporting replication of these techniques in Nicaragua, Holland, Brazil, Montreal, San Diego and other locations around the world.


Parent Story: Equipment from ADA has helped bridge the gap between therapy and fun

Emmett is a smart, funny, outgoing four-year-old, but his muscles don’t respond in a normal way. He has cerebral palsy (CP). As a result, he is unable to walk, talk or even sit on his own. We have been fortunate enough to work with an amazing team of therapists and teachers, and he continues to make great progress. However, most of that work is very clinical and sometimes isolating – it’s just the nature of things.


Emmett riding in a modified seat on a bike with his mother.One of my earliest memories is of riding in the child seat on the back of a bike with my Dad. I wanted to share that experience with Emmett and, thanks to ADA, I’m now able to. After researching bike seats, I couldn’t find one that would be safe for him. The seats I found had only flimsy straps to hold the child in the seat. ADA modified a seat to have a full vest and a wide strap so that Emmett is safe and supported and can enjoy the ride. Emmett was all smiles the day we rode through our local park, and I was confident he was safe and secure. That wouldn’t have been possible without ADA.

Our family happens to live in a building with lots of kids. During the summer, the courtyard becomes a giant canvas for chalk art. ADA helped Emmett join in the fun with a special seat and chalkboard desk. Before the desk, Emmett and I would watch the other kids drawing, but couldn’t really participate. Now, with his desk, he can be at the center of the activity – drawing on his desk while the other children draw with him.

For Emmett, living with CP means living with equipment (special strollers, chairs, braces, etc.). Living in NYC means living in walk-ups and small apartments. When visiting friends, we have to ask ourselves if his stroller will fit, and if not, we have to figure out where Emmett will sit. Thanks to ADA, we now have a portable seat that Emmett can use when we leave our home. It gives him the support he needs to sit independently and even has a tray that holds his iPad so he can play on his own.

The individualized equipment ADA has created for Emmett is helping him interact with his peers and with his family in ways other standard, mass-produced products cannot.

Shannon Thomason

Learn more about the ADA of New York City.