Nike Launches Flyease, Changing The Game For People With Disabilities

Nike Launches Flyease, Changing The Game For People With Disabilities

The company’s groundbreaking shoe technology is the first of its kind.

For college sophomore Matthew Walzer, simply putting on his shoes was an impossible task. Lacking the dexterity to get his foot in and out of his shoes, the Florida teen, who was born with cerebral palsy, had to enlist the help of his mother and father or others. While he could dress himself, Walzer, 19, told The Huffington Post, “shoes were the one issue” he had learned to deal with and accept.

Until he wanted change.

“By the time you turn 16,” he said, “it gets frustrating or embarrassing if you’re out with your friends and your shoe comes untied and you have to ask your friend, ‘Hey, can you bend down and tie my shoe for me?’”

So he decided to do something about it. Walzer, then in high school, sent a letter to Nike, first reaching out in 2012. He was intimidated, he said, but persistent.

“It took me a couple years to kind of just figure out exactly what I wanted to say in the right way,” he said.how

But luckily for Walzer, his letter ended up in the hands of Nike CEO Mark Parker, who in turn passed it along to Tobie Hatfield, the company’s senior director of athlete innovation. Coincidentally, Hatfield had just embarked on his own journey to explore what Nike could do to help athletes facing physical challenges as well as the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

What resulted in the three years since was a partnership between Walzer and Hatfield’s team at Nike that culminated Monday with the company’s unveiling of the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease. http://www.broadenedhorizons.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=1919&action=trash&_wpnonce=5cf0f68745The shoe is the first of its kind for the company, and perhaps any athletic brand specifically designed and dedicated to help those with disabilities and difficulties of buying and wearing shoes. It will be available July 16 in limited quantities at Nike.com for North America.

NIke's Zoom Soldier 8 FLYEASE

 

“We used Matthew as a muse, which was awesome because he couldn’t believe that a big company would do something for him,” Hatfield told HuffPost.

Hatfield began his work in developing shoes and technology for athletes with disabilities back in 2006 with Sarah Reinertsen, a professional paratriathlete, whose leg was amputated when she was 7 years old.

 “She was mentioning how much of a hassle it is to buy a pair of shoes, cut the shoe … and fit it and glue it on, velcro it on, tape it on, all that kind of stuff,” Hatfield recalled. “She was like, really sheepishly, ‘Do you think, you could maybe help?’ And I looked at it and I said, ‘Damn, Sarah, you have to do all of that?’”

Hatfield said that while Reinertsen struggled, she acknowledged the greater difficulties faced by other amputees she worked with who didn’t have the support system of a professional athlete.

“She said the hassle factor was too high, that they wouldn’t even get out and be active because of it. And I said, ‘That’s just not acceptable. We can do better,’” Hatfield said.

Nike Sole, a foam cover for the carbon fiber prosthetic blade developed in 2012, is now used by amputees like Reinertsen and others while competing or participating in physical activity. 

However, the technology that wasn’t the only groundbreaking factor. The company’s distribution of the product proved innovative as well. For the first time in its history, Nike handed over the intellectual property of a design to another organization — Össur, an orthopaedics and prosthetics company.

“They know their consumer base way better than we do,” Hatfield said.

From there, he began to learn about other challenged athletes — “not just amputees, but people with cerebral palsy, people with diabetes” — and to work toward solutions to make their lives easier. It was also an area that hit close to home for the Nike family, after Jeff Johnson, the company’s first employee suffered a stroke in 2004, subsequently losing use of the right side of his body.

“He couldn’t put his shoes on because of that, he couldn’t tie them. So, similar to cerebral palsy where you lose your dexterity, you lose the feeling and you the ability essentially — what we take for advantage, to put shoes on and to tie them — they couldn’t tie them,” Hatfield said.

With Walzer’s letter, success with Reinertsen and the motivation to help Johnson, Hatfield created Flyease technology, which, he says, allows for rear entry and no laces to tie, while still managing to provide support.

“Easy entry, easy access, easy adjustment, easy closure,” he said of the shoe.

Hatfield demonstrates the Flyease easy entry technology. (Credit: Nike)

The first iteration of Flyease appears on the Zoom Soldier 8, a LeBron James Nike series. (The Cleveland Cavalier star also happens to be Walzer’s favorite athlete.) The structure of a basketball hi-top shoe also provides the ankle support needed by people who may have cerebral palsy.

“It just made sense that we connected all of those dots,” Hatfield said.

There is a real need for a solution like this and it feels good to be a part of something that is going to help so many people,” James said on Nike.com.

LeBron James pictured with Matthew Walzer

As part of the Zoom Soldier series, Flyease technology will stay with Nike and be sold and distributed by the company. For Walzer, the ability to buy a shoe from Nike rather than a specialized company is a transformative experience.

“Up until working with Nike, when I needed a new pair of shoes, we had to go the mall and make a day out of it. We’d go to every store,” Walzer said. “Before even seeing if they were comfortable, it had to be easy for my parents to get my foot into the shoe.”

Hatfield echoed Walzer, saying selling the shoe will give the opportunity for many others “to be able to utilize something that really wasn’t ever designed for them before until now.” 

For Nike, it could mean more partnerships, Hatfield said, particularly with the military, which is also at the forefront of progress for injured veterans. Working with Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, which helps military amputees and burn victims, Hatfield said Nike helped shoes fit better with medical braces.

Hatfield underscored that while Nike is excited about what it’s been able to accomplish so far for people with disabilities, the company “want[s] to do it right.”

If Walzer can, he’ll be a part of that team. His dream is to be working for Nike in the future in some capacity, he said. For both men, the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease means, in a way, more than the company has ever achieved before for any major star or athlete.

“It’s so important for quality of life, it’s not always about trying to win a gold medal or achieve a world record,” Hatfield said, before invoking Nike’s mantra: “If you have a body, you’re an athlete”

Nike's Tobie Hatfield and Matthew Walzer embrace.

With the release of the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease, Hatfield said the company is already working on further developments, including a running shoe that incorporates Flyease technology. The Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease will be sent to the two U.S. basketball teams participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles from July 25 through Aug. 2. Hatfield added that Nike has also been working with the U.S. Paralympic Rugby Wheelchair team on technology that makes it easier for athletes to remain in the chair while competing.

“It’s basically kind of kickstarted a lot of work in this area,” Hatfield said of the shoe and the company’s hopes to continue innovating.

“Once you start down this road, I don’t know how you could ever go back,” he said.

Broadened Horizons Customer, Prasad, Offers Wheelchair-Accessible Ground Transportation Travel Services in Mumbai, India

Wheelchair-friendly Travel now possible in India

Broadened Horizons’ customer, Prasad Phanasgaokar has one of our Comfort Carrier Travel, Recreation, & Emergency Preparedness Transfer Slings available for customers of his wheelchair-accessible ground transportation travel and taxi services.  As a wheelchair user himself, Prasad understands how much the Comfort Comfort opens up greater opportunities to experience more of India’s sights, sounds, and culture, and participate in activities that simply otherwise would not be possible because he uses the Comfort Carrier himself!  Continued below…

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Way back in 2000, when Prasad Phanasgaokar visited the Elvis Presley’s Graceland  Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee in USA he was taken aback. He saw a spectacular display of Elvis’s cars and custom jets. Presley’s Pink Cadillac and Harley Davidson bikes left Prasad speechless. A wheelchair accessible bus installed with a hydraulic passenger lift took him comfortably inside the mansion. That is where an idea struck him. What do you think was the idea? “I dreamt of having  a wheelchair accessible car in my city- Mumbai,” says this thirty five year old Goregoan resident who is stricken by muscular dystrophy. He is dependent on a battery operated wheel chair for all his mobility. Today, with a successful car rental business Prasad Phanasgaokar has come a long way. This avid traveller with a diploma in mechanical draughtsman made his dream come true. He modified a Tata Winger to make it wheelchair accessible! Not only did he meet his need for travel but he has also fulfilled the dreams of several physically challenged people in and across various cities in India! [As well as disabled and elderly wheelchair-using tourists around the world with the desire to visit and experience India!
Mark Felling, Broadened Horizons President plans to visit India in January, 2012, a trip that would not be possible without Samantha Travels.  With Prasad’s and a few other Indian’s help, Mark hopes to visit a few rehabilitation centers and expand awareness in India of assistive technologies and their empowering impact on independence, self-confidence, and ability of people with disabilities to participate more fully in society through education, employment, recreation, and travel with profound positive impact on their local communities’ economy.
So how did Prasad modify the car?
Here’s how: A hydraulic passenger lift of Belgium make marketed by Hyva(India) has been installed in a Tata Winger. The lift is fitted in the car’s rear and uses the car batteries for power. In case if the car battery is exhausted, a manual handpump is used to raise the ramp.
The seats in the car have been altered to face the rear. The seats can be further adjusted to accommodate two wheel chair users alongwith three passengers. A folding chair provision has been set up in the vehicle which can be used by the attendant.
Adequate locking devices and seat belts ensure total safety of the wheel chair users and the passengers.
Prasad Phanasgaokar and his Tata winger

Phanasgaokar was like any college going youngster, riding bikes, party hopping when suddenly he began to show symptoms of muscular dystrophy at the age of eighteen. The disease caused the muscles to break down making him weaker and wheel chair bound. His undying spirit as well as support from family and friends enabled him to face this challenge well.“It was a great feeling to receive an award,” says Phanasgaokar who received the Shiv Gaurav Puraskar sponsored by the Vihaang group of companies in April this year. He was one of the twelve people who received the award for his contribution in the business despite the challenge.  Alongwith close friend Prashant Kavle, he started the car rental business- Samartha Travels way back in 2003. He approached National Handicapped Finance Development Corporation , a self employment scheme for the disabled which helped him with a start up loan for his business.

The Tata Winger car has been a boon to several physically challenged people all over India. It has allowed the family members of such people to experience the joy and excitement of travelling together. What is your dream? “ I wish to start this service in other cities as well,” he says. One man’s victory against all odds.

Contact Prasad at Samartha Travels for your wheelchair-friendly ground transportation needs around by and complete travel packages throughout India!download full film Dance Academy: The Movie 2017

This story was originally published in Times Of West Mumbai.  Republished by Broadened Horizons with editor’s permission.

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Dr. Scott Rains, inclusive travel writer and consultant to countries around the world, was reportedly the first wheelchair-user and quadriplegic to go up on the Taj Mahal using the Comfort Carrier and see it from the up-close-and-personal perspective of all other visitors instead of being restricted and kept at a distance. The Comfort Carrier has gotten Prasad and his customers out of “sticky” situations more than once during India’s muddy, flood-prone monsoon season.  He intimately understands while he provides ground transportation services, his disabled customers are tourists using his service to experience India and the Comfort Carrier is an inexpensive tool that enhances their comfort, increases their safety, and opens doors to more travel experiences and unique memories.

If you would like to WOW customers of your inclusive, wheelchair-friendly travel services please contact Broadened Horizons about the Comfort Carrier.

Other India Accessible Automobile Resources

MASS- Mobilityaids.in – Hand Controlled Car for Differently Abled

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