Having impaired grip and manual dexterity means that much of what was accessible becomes impenetrable and unusable. Over the years I have accumulated a small number of essential aids that help me crack all forms of packaging, carry stuff, and generally encounter life with a sense of comfortable and dignified utility.
It is astonishing how necessary grip strength is. There’s a mechanical element to packaging with a degree of difficulty that is set several levels higher than that attainable by the manually less competent.
These are tools with a sliding component that varies the size of things that can be gripped. I have one in the kitchen, one in the car, and two in my room (large and small versions). I use them mostly to open bottles and any containers with small lids that don’t yield to gentle efforts – especially those fiendish ‘childproof’ ones. I get that keeping some products away from kids is sensible, but in a paradoxical way this safety feature also makes the product inaccessible to intended users. You can find examples of multigrips from Mitre 10 here.
I also have an array of jar opening tools which can be found at most disability aid stores. They are not, however, as flexible as a multigrip.
Rock climbers folding knife
Knives are handy for gaining access to any number of forms of packaging or dividing things others can simply tear or pull apart. The rock climbers knife folds and opens without needing to grip the blade the way you do with a regular pocketknife (flick knives excepted). They are designed to be used while wearing gloves. I can open a blade by resting the knife on my knee and using the heel of my hand to twist the blade out.
I have one in my outdoors shoulder bag, so it’s always with me when I am out – something airport security people were not happy with [that caused all kinds of bother when I insisted it was a tool, not a weapon and it had to go into my luggage – I hadn’t flown for 20 years and was unconscious of the anxieties]. I have another in my room with a cord so I can put it around my neck. Here’s an example of this kind of knife.
Neck pouch for my phone
I can’t do pockets so carrying my phone can be a challenge. My Tasmanian sister made me a fabric pouch (actually 2 – because they do need to be washed) with a strap I put around my neck [thank God for necks – I hang a lot of stuff round mine, and I’d be lost without it] so I can carry my phone with me at all times at home. No, I am not a phone junkie – it’s my universal information device and emergency communication means. I move too slowly to leave a phone lying around, and even with a Bluetooth headset I would have to stay in range – which is tricky in my home because of what the walls are made of.
Shoulder bags at home
The same sister made me a couple of soft cloth shoulder bags. Because I use at least one crutch at home I have only one hand that doesn’t work all that well to carry things. That doesn’t leave me with much capacity. The shoulder bags make a huge difference. I can carry 2 things at once, often more.
On this theme I had a large shoulder bag made by a former backpack maker so I could get a decent number of things at the supermarket at one go. This saved the headache of wrestling with shopping trolleys, and also meant I was independent in getting shopping from the car to the house – in one trip.
Regular ceramic mugs are useless for me. First, I can’t use their handles – they just slide through my fingers. Second, if I hold the body of the mug, I get heat stressed fingers.
Back in the mid 1990s I bought a double wall stainless steel mug which I have loved and used long before I got GBS. It’s still great. I can slip fingers between the body of the mug and the handle and there’s no problem lifting or holding. I have never found anything like it since.
Also, before GBS, I bought a Thermos travel mug. It has a screw on lid – so I can fill it with coffee, slip it into my shoulder bag and carry something else from the kitchen (like cheesecake). The handle is open at the bottom and the gap is wide enough for my hand to be comfortably supported as it grips the insulated body. This is a no fear of dropping mug. Here’s a current version from Thermos that has the right handle and is double-walled stainless steel.
When I was working in an office I had a double wall titanium tumbler – 450ml. Completely insulated, light and fairly easy to grip because of its size. Titanium products aren’t cheap, but they are light, and they don’t break. I recently bought a plate that is way easier to carry because of its shape. Here a link to a titanium cup. The link can also take you to plates.
These have a hinge-like springy device on the top, so gripping and using them is a breeze. It’s what they give kids, apparently, but they are also marketed for adults, so you don’t have to be the only person with a fork – and still preserve your dignity. Here’s a set from Amazon.
What praise can’t I heap upon this wonderful device? It was introduced as I was recovering from GBS and made so much of my life livable in ways unimagined before. Calling it a phone is like calling your home a kitchen. The phone is one of the lesser functions. It’s my diary, my notepad, my clock, a primary part of my music system, my audiobook and podcast player, my email and internet, my falls detection and emergency communication device, and etc.
Blue tooth headsets have been a godsend. I am no longer tethered to the device with cords that are a nightmare when walking with crutches. And anything you stick in or over your ears has to be removed for comfort, functionality or safety.
My Aftershokz Opencomms are bone conduction, so the sound transfer happens via the skull bone in front of the ear. They are put in place in the morning and stay all day hardly noticed.
No more switching in and out of the ear, no impediment to hearing. They are safer, more functional and less intrusive than any other headset I have used. I have had AirPods and still have a Bose over ear set I prefer for listening to music.
And no, I am not being sponsored by Aftershokz. I mention them by name only because I am not aware of other bone conduction sets and can’t speak to them. I will never go back to in-ear devices.
I spent my youth in the Tasmanian bush. When you have to carry everything, you need you get fussy about what you need and what you carry. It’s got to be necessary and functional.
A lot of the things I now use and esteem have come from camping and bushwalking retailers like Mountain Designs, Drifta and Alton. These products are light and tough. They are not cheap and are over-specified for home use. But they suit my grip and dexterity needs without screaming ‘Disability’. They are more about universal design. They call out ‘Utility’.
I am, of course, obliged to seek out disability specific aids, because some needed features are compensatory and would impede ‘normal’ capacity. But it is surprising, when you go exploring, how often products that are designed with a specific purpose in mind have a universal application.
There’s a difference between the dignity of independence and dependency that comes down to what tools we can discover or craft – and whether their use signifies disability or utility. It’s a huge difference at times.