Sunday, July 14, 2024

New evacuation chair to make Pontiac more accessible

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Jan. 15, 2023
James Harvey pulls on his sock using a contraption he made out of an old windshield wiper fluid bottle.
The device is modeled after a tool he grew to love and rely on for his morning routine while in a physical rehabilitation program following the amputation of his left leg in 2014.
He needs it because without his left leg, he can no longer lean over to pull on a sock without losing his balance and falling out of his chair. The device allows him to get the sock down to his foot without shifting his weight.
Last year, after almost a decade of using the same homemade tool, Harvey took it upon himself to modernize his design, and share his invention with the greater Pontiac community.
He bought a hard plastic orange pail from Home Depot, and he set to work making piles of these sock puller-uppers for other amputees or people with mobility challenges.
He called it the Sock-It-Up.
Last summer, he went into overdrive making his Sock-It-Ups. He offered them as some of many local creations made to raise money for the purchase of a new evacuation chair that will be available to Pontiac residents who use wheelchairs and need assistance getting into or out of places that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
Access Squad, a local group organized to support people in the region who have mobility challenges, began raising money for the chair in the fall of 2022, with many of its members crafting items to be sold or auctioned off.
“People who have disabilities can have access to programs to adapt their home, but that doesn’t mean you can go anywhere,” said Olga Ouellet, occupational therapist and founder of Access Squad. She led the effort to bring the chair to the Pontiac.
“Your family members might not have their homes adapted, for example. But with the chair, it opens up new possibilities.”
The chair works to transport people up and down stairs without the operator having to actually lift the chair. Instead, the operator acts more as a guide.
Use of the chair will be facilitated by TransporAction Pontiac, a local volunteer-based public transportation service.
Harvey got a sneak preview of how it works in July, when Ouellet organized a demonstration of the chair at the Shawville Lions Club, which is up a steep flight of stairs above the Shawville arena.
He said the chair carried him smoothly up the stairs, pivoting seamlessly at the landing to continue the journey up the second flight and into the Lions Club.
“The chair is amazing. I would highly recommend it to anyone,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what you can do with it.”
The $5,000 needed for the purchase was raised through selling creations handmade by members of the Access Squad, and through generous donations from the Shawville Lions Club, the MRC Pontiac, the Quyon Legion, and the Pontiac County Women’s Institute.
“This started from a small group of people that are going through a lot and that put their energy towards something positive,” Ouellet said. “When you engage in meaningful action, you better your health.”
Helping people help themselves
Ouellet has been working as an occupational therapist for about 30 years, 10 of which have been out at CLSC in Shawville. In 2019, she began inviting her patients to participate in a new group she was starting.
“Members of the Access Squad are people that are going through grieving. So grieving of their abilities, with their functional levels, or grieving of a loved one,” she explained.
“What I try to offer is an environment where people can be in relationships with others going through the same thing.”
The group meets about once a month in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which is fully accessible.
Ouellet said about 12 members show up in person to meetings, but many more participate from home.
“The idea is to give a sense of belonging and contribution. It’s a therapy group based on the occupational therapy philosophy that when you’re doing something meaningful it has a positive impact for your wellbeing.”
Harvey can attest to these benefits.
When he lost all feeling in his left leg due to paralysis, his Shawville doctor sent him by ambulance to Montreal, where his leg had to be amputated.
He had been a working tinsmith in Ottawa for 45 years, making many of the city’s notable signage, including the Little Italy sign that is attached to the Highway 417 overpass on Preston. He loved the work and the community that came with it.
All of this ended when his leg stopped working. That was 10 years ago, and Harvey has been using a wheelchair ever since.
“It was a little hard at first, but life goes on. You can’t curl up in a corner and cry,” Harvey said.
Ouellet invited him to join Access Squad just over a year ago, when she was visiting his home to fill out some papers he needed to get a chair lift installed in his home and to have his washroom renovated to be more accessible.
“I’m doing it because I can’t do anything else,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can do to keep busy, by helping people help themselves, like putting on their own sock.”
But beyond this, he appreciates the community the group has offered him.
“I’ve met a lot of amazing people. There’s people in there that have problems just like myself,” he said.
“Everyone’s been very good, very helpful with each other. We’re brothers and sisters, that’s the way I look at it.”


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