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Ginger Ale, Velcro and a Dream: A COTA Becomes an Inventor.

By Linda Roseman, COTA/L AP.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to have magic powers so that I could do good things for people. I realized that it probably wasn't going to happen. However, my dream of really making a difference in people's lives continued, and after a few twists and turns in my career, I became an occupational therapy assistant.

The part of OT I have enjoyed the most is making custom adaptive equipment for the residents of Inglis House, a specialty nursing care facility for individuals with physical disabilities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Having graduated from art college, I was accustomed to collecting unusual gadgets and pieces of hardware, etc, which are often referred to by others as "junk." However, I saw these items as valuable accessories to my creations-duct tape and Velcro being among my most frequently used tools. Unfortunately, my supervisor was, at times, less enchanted with my treasures as they began to occupy more and more space on my desk. I was finally banished from the staff office to a larger section of the clinic, where there were cabinets in which I could store my goodies.

In 1990, an Inglis House resident, Jim M., asked me if I could attach something to his wheelchair so he could drink ginger ale. Jim had multiple sclerosis and no functional use of his upper extremities. I searched my cabinets and pulled out some clear tubing, a water bottle, a wire, an old piece of C-shaped splinting material that was attached to a dressing stick, and my staples, duct tape and Velcro. With a U-bolt and assorted hardware, I attached the device to Jim's chair.

Jim was quite pleased with being able to drink ginger ale by himself, and we joked about one day mass-producing the bottle and becoming famous. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to one day see a stranger on the street using a device I helped invent, though I never thought it would actually happen.

But it wasn't long before residents of Inglis House noticed Jim's water bottle and I began to receive multiple requests. The problem was I could not use Jim's configuration because of variations in wheelchair types and styles. Even worse - my private stash of parts was dwindling.

So I went to Home Depot and bought flexible gooseneck hosing used for plumbing and appliance repairs to encase the clear tubing. Duct tape and splinting material attached the hosing to the bottle lids. Needless to say, the final products weren't pretty, but they worked and continued to be in demand.

I recruited other therapists in my department to help me assemble the devices, but we just could not keep up with the requests of almost 50 bottles in just a few months. The devices also often fell apart and required frequent repair, which was both frustrating and time-consuming.

A few years later, the Director of Vocational Rehabilitation at Inglis House, Barry Bussell, formed an advisory committee of business professionals. The committee was charged with investigating employment opportunities for the residents in the workshop other than the jobs typically available to them.

I met the newly formed advisory committee, as they were taking an orientation tour of Inglis House and told them about our department. There enthusiasm increased as I described the water bottle project and the problems we were having producing them.

It was the start of an ongoing collaboration between our two areas.

The advisory committee could help us develop the water bottle device beyond its initial homemade status, and the resident workers could assemble, package, and sell the product when it was ready for market.

After obtaining the financial backing of the Inglis House Board of Directors through a business plan presentation, we began to develop the product, which we named the "Drink-Aide™." One of the members of the advisory committee, Ken McKenzie, a retired engineer, designed a clamping system so the bottle could be attached to a variety of wheelchair types. The clamp was used for approximately two years until the Drink-Aide™ underwent multiple revisions based on the feedback of the residents.

Today, approximately 10 years after Jim M.'s request, the Drink-Aide™ now patented, is part of the lives of more than 200 individuals, and requests are received daily from all over the world.

It still seems incredible to me that the project has reached this level. One of the greatest moments I have experienced in my work with the Drink-Aide™ occurred in January 2000, while I was waiting for a friend at a movie theater. A young man drove his wheelchair into the lobby where I was standing. As he rode past me, I noticed a Drink-Aide™ on the back of his chair. He stopped to take a sip, as his companion purchased the tickets, and then proceeded into the theater.

The author wishes to acknowledge Barry Bussell, the staff and resident workers of the Inglis House Vocational Rehabilitation Department, and the members and consultants of the business advisory committee for their hard work, perseverance, and contributions to the development of the Drink-Aide™. The author also wishes to thank the administration, staff, and residents of Inglis House for their support of the project. Finally, the author also wishes to thank the late Jim M. for his challenging request and his love of ginger ale.

Linda Roseman, COTA/L AP, works in the OT department at Inglis House, Philadelphia.

This article appeared in the March 2, 2000 issue of Advance For Occupational Therapy Practitioners magazine.