“Our purpose is to instigate a revolutionary shift, one where we reject barriers and segregation and choose instead to imagine and build custom adaptations; where we share designs and stories; and where we respond to difference and disability, not with fear or neglect, but with solidarity and love.”
Adaptive Design Association advances healthcare, education, and social well-being by engaging everyone—novice to expert—in building custom adaptations, discovering untapped potential, and nurturing communities that thrive with diversity.
Adaptive Design Association envisions a day when adaptive design centers are operating in communities, schools, and organizations everywhere; and when all people with disabilities are fully educated, employed, and valued, in every family, society, and country.
In 1981, Alex Truesdell, met two people that forever inspired her to better the lives of others.
In that year, Alex Truesdell, an early childhood teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, met Erin, an infant with severe multiple disabilities. A few months later, Alex’s aunt lost the use of her fingers and thumbs following a spinal cord injury. “I had never heard of adaptive technology, but suddenly found myself waking up in the night thinking of adaptations. I rolled towels into bolsters, carved notches in toys, and threaded straps through seat backs.” With the help of her Uncle Frank, a skilled builder, Alex learned to work with all kinds of materials, and together, they transformed ideas and frustrations into highly customized solutions for Erin and her Aunt Lynn.
Over the next few years, Alex set up a small workshop in her basement and made many more adaptations for children on her caseload. Alex was eventually hired full-time by the Perkins School to start the Assistive Device Center, a program now in its 30th year. In 1998, Alex relocated to New York City with the goal of replicating the practice and philosophy of adaptive design, and adding an internship program for women re-entering the workforce through Alternatives To Incarceration. Through a great stroke of luck, Alex met Antoinette LaSorsa and they developed a pilot called “Creative Constructions.” In 2001 they established the Adaptive Design Association as an independent nonprofit. In 2015 The MacArthur Foundation recognized Alex's innovative approach to solving a critical global problem and awarded her the MacArthur Fellowship.
Alex Truesdell Kellogg Fellowship
Women Care DPCA launching
Alternatives To Incarceration program &
Antoinette LaSorsa joins the team
Tangible cue research with Ellen Trief.
Replication with Kit Frank in Ibarra, Ecuador
Among the Giants documentary video by Cory Tomascoff
Department of Education District 75 opens 7 Adaptive Design workshops
Incorporation as “Adaptive Design Association.Inc” a 501c3 not-for profit organization, John Embree, Founding Chair
First support from the New York Community Trust.
Well Met Philanthropy seed funding
OT/PT supervisors secured DOE funding for weekly professional development courses
PS 138 Fabricating Individual Technical Team partnership (FITT)
Crain’s New York Business feature in What Makes New York NY
First American Printing House order for 500 sets of Tangible Symbol Cues (13,500 cues).
Ford Foundation: Made-to-Learn internship (Adults with autism)
New York Times: Using Cardboard to Bring Disabled Children Out of the Exile of Wrong Furniture.
Replication at FUNDAL in Guatemala
New York Community Trust supports
Managed Care research grant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Terminology: What do all those terms mean? Adaptive equipment? Adaptive devices? Assistive devices? Assistive technology?
Adaptations, adaptive equipment, assistive devices, and related terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences in meaning.
If you have a condition that interferes with your doing tasks in the usual way, adaptive equipment may help you out. Equipment (devices) can assist with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating and so on), schooling, work, recreation, and more. Some adaptive devices are products you can buy from stores, catalogs, or websites. You may make some yourself, or turn to an organization like Adaptive Design to make some for you.
Adaptations is an even broader term that includes equipment, but can also mean different ways of doing things that don't necessarily involve a device, such as lying down when you're putting on socks and shoes, if you have trouble with balance.
Federal law defines an assistive technology device as: "Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children* with disabilities."
So the term assistive technology includes all adaptive equipment, from the simplest (using the eraser end of a pencil to turn the pages of a book) to the most complex (voice-controlled robots). Commonly, however, people use assistive technology, or AT, to refer to devices toward the high-tech end of the spectrum.
What is adaptive design?
As practiced at ADA, Adaptive Design has three components:
Think creatively: Using your imagination to solve problems. Looking at a problem from several angles, identifying its different facets, and seeing the parts in correct relation to one another. Then generating multiple ideas for how to deal with each one, figuring out which sub-solutions fit well together to form a solution to the whole problem.
If this sounds like hard work -- it is. It's also a LOT of fun!
Plan collaboratively: Getting people with diverse perspectives and expectations to agree on how wide the armrest of a chair should be isn't always easy, but consensus is key. Shared problem-solving--properly managed--nearly always results in better solutions. Even more important, when the whole team is involved, everyone will feel that they are part of the solution. Fostering this sense of ownership is the best way to ensure that an adaptation will be fully accepted and used.
Build economically: We prefer to build equipment with low-cost tools and building materials that are locally available and not harmful to our environment. We build economically because:
it is wasteful not to
it is thought-provoking and fun
it makes justification of funding proposals easier
What does the Adaptive Design Association do?
How do I arrange for someone from Adaptive Design Association to speak at an event?
Community outreach and building of networks is essential to the promotion to Adaptive Design’s vision and mission. To invite someone from Adaptive Design to speak at your event, please get in touch with us by phone at 212-904-1200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am thinking of starting my own initiative. Can you help?
by providing resources on our website, such as a gallery of types of adaptation s, and ways to connect with those using various program models .
by providing training to you and your staff, via a variety of professional development opportunities for you and your staff or through extended apprenticeships
through consultative services tailored to your organization's needs ( Get in touch with us to find out more.).
What is the cost to have something custom made by Adaptive Design for use at home?
What is the process for arranging for equipment to be made for a school?
The short answer is: call us or e-mail us. We'll take it from there.