MacArthur Fellows Program

Alex Truesdell

Adaptive Designer and Fabricator | Class of 2015

Constructing low-tech, affordable, and customized tools and furniture that enable children with disabilities to participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities.

Title
Adaptive Designer and Fabricator
Affiliation
Adaptive Design Association, Inc.
Location
New York, New York
Age
59 at time of award

Alex Truesdell is a visionary social entrepreneur who creates low-tech, affordable tools and furniture that enable children with disabilities to participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities. Truesdell challenges our assumption that disabilities are fixed and instead suggests that limitations can be minimized, or even eliminated, with effective user-inspired adaptations—the kind she creates as founder and director of the nonprofit Adaptive Design Association (ADA).

Most devices that help children with special needs are expensive and mass-produced and must be replaced as a child ages. Each item built by ADA, in contrast, is the result of extensive collaboration with a child and family in order to optimize how the user will function at home or school. Truesdell’s innovative construction processes use common and affordable materials, such as corrugated cardboard and glue, to allow designers to prototype, build, and fit equipment on-site quickly and inexpensively. The result is unique, imaginative, and thoroughly useful products. Examples include steps (customized with superhero designs) that allow a young boy to climb in and out of his wheelchair without assistance, a seat insert that makes a standard classroom desk accessible for a little person, and a rocking chair that a non-walking child can propel and that can be combined with a detachable tray for eating or play.

Driven by a determination to help children anywhere, she disseminates adaptive design methods through in-person classes, internships, how-to videos, and forthcoming online workshops. She has reached families, clinicians, and educators across the United States and as far away as India, Guatemala, and Ecuador. Truesdell’s innovative approach to designing and building low-cost, high-quality adaptive equipment is improving the lives of thousands of children and disrupting traditional approaches to assistive technologies.

Alex Truesdell received a B.S. (1979) and M.Ed. (1998) from Lesley University and an M.Ed. (1982) from Boston College. She was affiliated (1981–1998) with the Perkins School for the Blind, where she was founder and coordinator of the Assistive Device Center, prior to founding Adaptive Design Association, Inc., in 2001.

News About This Fellow
February 17, 2016
"‘Genius Grant’ Recipient Alex Truesdell Returns to Lesley"
The Boston Globe
Alex Truesdell, 2015 MacArthur Fellow
September 29, 2015
"Designer and Immigrant Activist Are Among MacArthur 'Genius' Winners"
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Juan Salgado, Alex Truesdell, 2015 MacArthur Fellows
View all news

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Please credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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