When Michael Coady and his wife decided they wanted to have a baby, he immediately started doing research.
Coady has incomplete quadriplegia from a fractured vertebra, and he knew that raising his child would require an extra layer of planning. But he quickly discovered that buying accessible gear that would adapt to his wheelchair wasn’t as simple as shopping online.
“I was a little bit surprised that there wasn’t more out there,” he said. “I understand that it’s a relatively small market but it was still surprising that there wasn’t somebody servicing that market.”
Instead, Coady turned to the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax for help. That’s where Elaine Churchill, an occupational therapist, works with new parents with disabilities to help adapt baby gear.
‘Not affordable for anyone’
Churchill said society is long past the stigma that people with disabilities should not have children, and she’s surprised that businesses haven’t caught up.
“If you think of a crib design with the solid front – the bars on the front – you can’t get up to it with a chair, you can’t reach over it to get into the crib. That would be one of the biggest issues in Canada: you can’t buy a wheelchair-accessible crib, that I have found anyway.”
Churchill is challenging companies that make baby equipment to start offering adaptable products for parents with disabilities. She said the few options that she finds online in North America are priced at a premium.
“I looked online before you were coming and there was one available for $3,000 – a wheelchair-accessible crib,” she told CBC News. “That’s not affordable for anyone really.”
European market way ahead
Churchill works with parents with a range of disabilities such as arthritis and paralysis to help them do day-to-day tasks with their babies.
“If you can’t get your child in and out of a crib, you have to get someone to do that for you. So you can’t be fully involved in the hands-on parenting process.”
While Churchill has yet to find options in Canada, she said the European market is way ahead. There she found specialized strollers that hook on wheelchairs and electronic cribs that can adjust their height and slide open the doors.
But instead of buying equipment with an astronomical price tag, Churchill works with a North American organization called the Tetra Society, which is dedicated to customizing equipment for people with disabilities. Churchill and Tetra’s volunteers scour through online videos for ideas, and then work together to modify baby gear.
Rewarding search for solutions
In Coady’s case, he wanted to come up with a way to carry his baby, Seth, while still being able to move around their home.
They bought a bouncy chair, and a Tetra volunteer cut off the base, allowing it to attach to his wheelchair.
“If you don’t have anyone in your life that can make these adaptations and you aren’t aware of those programs like the IWK and those services, it absolutely could be discouraging,” said Coady, who was grateful for the support.
Churchill said she’ll continue to hunt for innovative ways to help the new parents.
“It’s very rewarding to find ways to make life successful for people.”