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About Us

Over the past 20 years, we have created thousands of adaptations for children in NYC and provided hundreds of hands-on classes and other opportunities to engage the community in the workshop.

Our Mission

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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.

Our Vision

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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.

Our Mission
Our History
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Adaptive Design Association (ADA) was established as an independent non-profit in 2001.  Based in Manhattan, New York, ADA has been transforming the lives of individuals with disabilities by inventing and producing innovative, low-cost adaptive design solutions for over twenty years.


Alex Truesdell, Founder, and  Director Emeritus, began creating adaptive solutions at Perkins School for the Blind when she was a teacher for children with multiple disabilities.  Alex invented and produced adaptive tools by using affordable materials such as cardboard and rolled towels.  Through years of practice, Alex transformed ideas and frustrations into highly customized and successful solutions.  In 2015 The MacArthur Foundation recognized ADA's innovative approach to solving critical global problems by awarding Alex with a MacArthur Fellowship.


Today, under the leadership of Executive Director Jennifer Hercman, Adaptive Design Association has grown its programmatic scope to strengthen adaptive solutions for individuals with physical disabilities, producing three-dimensional communication learning cards for the visually impaired, and launching an innovative work program for students with Autism in the New York Public School system.

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DIY Ability



Department of Education District 75 opens 7 Adaptive Design workshops


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.

Alex Truesdell named MacArthur Fellow


Being Believed in Matters

Lesley University

Commencement Address



Feature in What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World
By: Sara Hendren 


Alex Truesdell Kellogg Fellowship


Women Care DPCA launching
Alternatives To Incarceration program &
Antoinette LaSorsa joins the team


Move to

Riverside Drive


Tangible cue research with Ellen Trief.
Replication with Kit Frank in Ibarra, Ecuador


Among the Giants documentary video by Cory Tomascoff


Move to




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

Awarded Ford Foundation Good Neighbor Committee support

Our Team

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Jennifer Hercman

Executive Director

Antoinette LaSorsa

Fabrication Director

Charles Cohen

Fabrication Assistant

Tamara Morgan

Community Partnerships Coordinator

Adam El-Sawaf

Senior ​Adaptive Designer & Fabricator

Michelle D'Mello

Grant Writer

Eric GottShall

Adaptive Designer & Fabricator

Our Team
Board Members

Board Members

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Carole Gordon


Tracy Ehrlich

Vice Chair

Zach Clem


Matthew Goodman


Andrew Auchincloss


Sarah Cook


Ronnie Eldridge


Kathy Goldman


Laura Taub


Lisa Yokana


Karla Ruiz


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  • What does the Adaptive Design Association do?
    The Adaptive Design Association (ADA) develops and builds customized adaptive equipment for children and adults with disabilities, using readily available and affordable materials, so that people can participate fully at home, at school, and at work. Every piece of equipment made is also a learning tool for our interns, volunteers and course participants.
  • 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 equipmentmay 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. ----------------------------------------------------- *This definition comes from education law; thus the reference to "children," but assistive technology is used by people of any age.
  • 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 is the process for arranging for equipment to be made for a school?
    Please fill out our Let's Get Started form. It's a great idea to speak with the student who will use the equipment and with others in that student's team: families, therapists, teachers, etc. Find out what everyone thinks about the adaptive equipment you envision. Gather ideas and suggestions. Maybe do a little research to see if there's already a product "out there" that meets the need you're seeing. You'll be better able to describe what you want and how it will help the student. After you complete the form, we will reach out and give you an estimate of when we expect to be able to start working on your project. We'll contact you to arrange a "fitting." This is when we'll meet with you, the student, and whatever other members of the team can be assembled. We'll talk about needs and goals, assets and barriers, and possible designs. Then, back in our workshop, we'll assemble the item agreed-upon by the team. Then we arrange an "interim fitting" in which the student tries out the adaptation and the team decides whether size, shape, features, etc. are just what is wanted. We return to the workshop, make any changes decided on during the interim fitting, then edge it, prime it, and paint it the student's chosen color(s). Then we polyurethane the item to protect it, and add belts, mats and other accessories. Then we contact you to arrange a time for delivery.
  • What is the cost to have something custom made by Adaptive Design for use at home?
    Our team works diligently to secure funding to ensure equipment will not be cost prohibitive to our families. Our priority is to build relationships with families so clients will always feel comfortable reaching out for modifications or for other needs as clients grow and develop. To ensure that others will continue to benefit from the work that we do, we ask families to help by: 1. Sharing your experience: Write a testimonial about your experience 2. Contributing on our donation page on our website 3. Spreading the word: Share our service with other families and therapists
  • 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
  • I am thinking of starting my own initiative. Can you help?
    A facet of Adaptive Design Association's mission is to promote the spread of our approach. Many different models can be effective. We can help you with your initiative: by providing resources on our website, such as a gallery of types of adaptations, 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.).

Financial Information


Adaptive Design Association
is a 501c3 organization

The New York State Office of the Attorney General provides access to the annual filing for charitable organizations. Click to visit to see annual filings. Adaptive Design Association is committed to financial transparency. For additional information please do not hesitate to connect using or 212-904-1200. 

Financial Information
About the Founder

About the Founder

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Alex Truesdell


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. 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.

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