The device pictured here with John is a multi-task stick that he created for a client with arthritis who has difficulty with reaching for things in her kitchen. The rubber tip on one end is used for pushing the buttons on her range or microwave. The cup fits over and operates a single-handle faucet, the magnet can pick up cutlery that has fallen on the floor, and the end slot can push and turn the stove dials without reaching over burners or hot pots. The hook works to carefully lift coffee mugs and other items from upper cupboards.

By Kathy Rowe

Centennial residents since 1969, John Hodge and his wife Marilyn both started their significant volunteering activities when they retired about 25 years ago.

Marilyn was a well-known contributor for many years to retired teachers organizations, breast cancer support groups, Toronto Police 43 Division and the CCRA.

John was president of Georgian Bay Osprey Society for several years, and also volunteered at Canadian Standards Association for about 25 years directing the development of efficiency standards for all types of electrical products – to be referenced in Federal EnerGuide programs as well as efficiency programs in provinces, municipalities and utilities.

But John’s favourite and most satisfying volunteer position has been as member and chair of a committee called “DesignAbility” sponsored by March of Dimes. This committee creates and provides devices for people with various physical disabilities when nothing suitable is available commercially. Each client has very specific and necessary needs requiring unique but often low-tech designs to be developed, built and delivered.

“It seemed like a great excuse to go into my workshop,” John said happily. He then explained the process: “March of Dimes promotes the services of our committee to Occupational Therapists (OTs) working in the community. An OT will contact us and we visit the client to understand their needs. Together we discuss ideas and designs. Once I come up with a design, I build it in my workshop and deliver it to the client along with the OT.

“It’s so rewarding to see how an often simple but unique custom device can make someone’s everyday basic life tasks so much easier,” he said. “I get paid for my efforts when they smile and say thanks.”

John shared many stories and photos with me about the designs he has made for clients over the years. Modifications to chairs, railings, ramps, beds, toilets, stairs and much more have all been made by him. Some example projects are shown on this page.

“These devices allow for independence, not only for the client, but for their caregivers as well. Many things that they use every day can be modified and improved to make life easier and safer for persons with disabilities, whether inside or outside the home,” he noted.

Time and expertise are volunteered, but out-of-pocket expenses are reimbursed.

John has completed more than 150 such projects over the years in the Toronto area. And he hopes that this article will make members of our community aware that the service exists and is available to those who need it.

For more information about DesignAbility, you are encouraged to contact John at 647-274-6795, especially if:

1. You know of someone with a need that might be served.

2. You could possibly be a committee member with an exceptionally valid and gratifying excuse to go to your workshop, or help on the committee in other ways.