February 16, 2009

Two weeks ago I had a serious snow boarding accident resulting in multiple broken bones (in my legs), brain contusions, damage to my tailbone, a lost front tooth and various bruises and lacerations around my body. Basically I’m lucky to be alive and also lucky not to be permanently physically or mentally disabled. My recovery, for at least the broken leg bones, requires that I not put weight on my legs for 3 months – in other words, I’m wheelchair bound.

I have been wheeling around for about 8 days now, but only in my room at hospital or at my brother-in-law’s house in Portland. This means that I am able to make transitions between the following things in any order:

  • Bed
  • Toilet
  • Sofa
  • Car

That’s it! Not a lot of pushing the envelope so far. Also, accomplishing all these things, while awkward and often painful, felt fairly obvious with no unexpected requirements or outcomes. Once you master the basic rule – don’t attempt any transition without applying the wheelchair brakes or things are going to end up more painful than normal – and given that I was lucky enough not to break any arms or shoulders, I’ve been able to do most things without being manhandled by someone else.

Well, something changed today. It was my appointment with my surgeon to remove stitches, generally clean me up and determine if I can go back to California. His office is at the Portland Legacy Emanual Hospital near the Trauma unit where I was previously staying, so the surroundings were familiar. We arrived a few minutes early and I needed to make a restroom stop. I told my wife I would join her in the waiting room and headed off to find a restroom. I found one, used the button on the wall to open the door, managed to maneuver myself and the wheelchair into the disabled stall and do my business. None of it was easy but then I didn’t expect it to be easy. There are lot of micro adjustments to positioning to allow doors to close around wheelchair parts and so on. However, once I exited the stall and headed for the sink things got surprising. The soap dispenser and sink were co-located so no problems there. But next I needed to dry my hands. Looking around I discovered that the paper towel dispenser was on the opposite wall from the sink. In order to get to it I had to maneuver my wheelchair, which meant grabbing the grips on the wheels with wet hands. Doing this felt very disjointed and somewhat unsanitary. I was immediately struck by the apparent lack of consideration for wheelchair bound patrons of this restroom within a hospital. Was this a one-off oversight or would this turn out to be a pattern that I would discover over the course of my recovery? It was at this moment that I conceived the idea to keep a log of my experiences while in a wheelchair. As a designer I am used to gaining insight into other peoples’ lives by observation and interview techniques but here is a perfect opportunity to learn by actually doing 24/7. It doesn’t get any cleaner than this. There are no cheating options. I can’t just say, “Oh screw that! I’m walking around this obstacle.” I can’t walk! I can hardly crawl.

So here marks the beginning of my blog. I intend to list my experiences here. I hope that some of it will be entertaining and light hearted. I hope not to offend anyone, especially people who have to reside in these contraptions permanently, but if I do, I apologize in advance. I ultimately hope that the outcome of this could be some new product designs, but if nothing else, I would like to raise my own awareness of the lives of a group of people that in the past I have politely acknowledged and sometimes offered help, but never sought to REALLY understand how their life plays out on a daily basis.



3 Responses to “Introduction”

  1. Olly, my wife Theresa’s been on crutches for about 6 months now, so we’ve been having a similar set of experiences. My memory of crutches is from junior high school, where people seemed to fly around on them almost as easily as walking regularly. One day, I was giving Theresa a hard time about her ability to locomote, and I decided to try her crutches out myself. Well, that was the last time I gave her a hassle about it–it’s really hard to get around on those things. You’d never really know it if you didn’t try it yourself.

  2. Kelly Says:


    Wow. I wish you well on your recovery and as a designer who tries very hard to impress upon clients the importance of accessibility, I’m going to be reading along closely. What a touching opening post. Thanks for deciding to share your insights in this way!



  3. Ollie, I saw this post on Steve’s blog. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I will be coming back to see how you are healing.

    Your thoughts reminded me of a speaker from the 2006 GEL conference: <a href=’

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