Finding comfort at home: New website lists solutions to everyday problems for people with disabilities and their caregivers

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Laura Mauldin could almost write a book just about the uses of painter’s tape.

“Painter’s tape is so wonderful because it doesn’t leave a residue and it comes off and sticks on easily,” she says. “When you only have the use of one hand, you can use painter’s tape to tape a piece of paper to sign it, or tape something to the wall so you can attach it.”

The many uses of this traditionally blue scroll are just a few of the little life hacks on Mauldin’s new website, Disability at Home, which, while an offshoot of more research wide, is nonetheless an exciting project.

Mauldin, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and in the department of human development and family sciences, says she’s also struck by the use of rubberized shelf liners on things like trays and by using zip ties to secure things like a brake. on a wheelchair.

Associate Professor Laura Mauldin.
Associate Professor Laura Mauldin (contributing photo).

“My work is very much about positioning disability as something generative, about sharing knowledge and about community,” she says. “All of my work counters this deficit model of disability and seeks to change the conversation about how people with disabilities are creators. When we start asking different questions and looking at disability in a different way, we can see the creativity and the agency that people with disabilities have in their world and this website is a good way to document both the strategies of people with disabilities and carers.

The effort began before the pandemic with plans for a book project funded by a UConn Humanities Institute research grant that would have taken her to 44 area homes to learn about the experiences of caregiver spouses at United States. Then came the 2020 lockdown.

To save the project, she changed the scope to allow remote interviews, which had the advantage of giving her access to joint carers across the country rather than just locally. Even with these virtual interviews, she says, she still felt like she needed to see people’s surroundings to write about them.

“Part of ethnographic research and interviewing people is getting to know their world, going to them and seeing the environment they live in and how they interact with it. It all helps you tell the story,” she explains, so she asked for pictures of various things that make life easier — think tips and tricks — and a second interview where she could review the pictures and talk about it.

The response was overwhelming with 500 submissions documenting what people were doing in their homes with grab bars, pill boxes, baby monitors, magnetic fridge shelves, mortar and pestle, walkie-talkies and label makers – even paint stirrers. (Tip: Use these to level an uneven surface, like the lip between the garage and the driveway, for better wheelchair access.)

Once COVID subsided a year later, she was able to visit a handful of homes herself and take a few more photos.

“That’s when I thought all this information would be useful to the world,” she says.

A grant from UConn’s Humanities and Arts Fellowship and Collaborative Research Program enabled a web designer and an undergraduate student to work with Mauldin to bring the site to life, which has recorded about 13,000 visits since going live last month.

“It was really a wonderful thing to be able to talk to people across the country and learn that they too are doing what they need to do to get by,” Mauldin says.

She uses the word “also” because it’s a personal project for her:

“I was a caregiver for my late partner for about five years. She passed away in 2010 and between 2006 and 2010 she had cancer and the treatments and the disease left her with various disabilities and impairments that we were with still struggling. But sometimes we wanted to live a life of relative normality. We took a trip once and had to bring him infusions of medicine.

“We were in a hotel and we didn’t bring the IV pole we had at home. We looked around and pulled the shoelace off his sneakers and threaded the shoelace through the hole at the top of the saline bag that was usually reserved for the IV pole and tied it to a shower curtain rod and we just hung out in the bathroom while she had her IV.

A screenshot showing a variety of projects from the Disability at Home website, including a paint stirrer, DIY grab bars, magnetic spice rack, and painter's tape.
The Disability at Home site offers a wide range of examples of how home environments have been made more accessible (Disability at Home).

“It was a moment for me. At the time, we were just doing what we had to do, and I didn’t think about it until much later, maybe even during this project, that we had our own tricks of the trade. adaptation that we faked. That experience was the impetus for doing the project from the start because, I thought, I have that experience but I’m definitely not alone, and, in fact, there are millions of people who have been there or are currently going through it.This project aimed to document what they do.

From this came the first book project and later the home website. In the meantime, she secured funding from the Social Science Research Council’s Rapid Response Grants for Covid-19 and the Social Sciences because she added a section on the challenges of caregiving during the pandemic to the 44 interviews. staff led for the book. The results will appear in an article to be published later.

“With all the stigma surrounding disability, it can be hard to know how to ask, or know you can ask, or know there is knowledge out there,” says Mauldin. “If we only see disabilities as this tragedy, we also fail to recognize that it’s part of being human and it’s part of how we create our world.”

Mauldin says the website is for anyone who needs to modify their home or environment, whether due to impairments caused by illness or surgery, accident or natural aging, unexpected illness or birth defect. She is also looking forward to receiving submissions from other solutions via the website’s contact page.

“There’s a real hesitation to talk about disability,” says Mauldin. “For me, that’s the other objective of the site, to talk about disability in a simple and relaxed way. We don’t need to romanticize it. We don’t need to demonize him. We can just talk about it as a fact of life. Let’s all talk about it because we all deal with it in one way or another.

Visit the Disability at Home website at handicapathome.org.