Tag Archives: UNlimiters

New Uses for Common Household Items

It isn’t always necessary to buy a specialized product in order to adapt the world to your needs. Often times, you can use everyday household items already at your disposal, in new and creative ways; turning them into a mobility device or another form of assistive technology.

I am always using my body and the objects around me in new ways in order to make my life easier. Sometimes this makes people nervous. For instance, I have been known to carry anything from a slip of paper, to dinnerware, in my mouth in order to avoid an extra trip. This drives my Dad crazy, he thinks I might break a tooth; but if it is good enough for my dog, it is good enough for me. Other times my ingenuity leaves people wondering “why didn’t I think of that?” and soon others, even those without disabilities, are using my methods in their daily routines.

I have a tall bar stool in my house. It is located right next to my fridge in the kitchen. It is not for sitting, even if I wanted to sit on it I couldn’t. I do, however, use it for a number of other things. First, I use it to hold my coffee cup and cereal bowl while I pour milk in the morning. This saves me from have to make trips back and forth from the table to the fridge in the morning. Secondly, I use it to carry things from one side of the kitchen to the other. I simply place the item(s) on the stool and push the stool from one place to the next. It slides very easily on the kitchen floor. Finally, I use it for stability, when sweeping or picking something up off the floor. The third instance isn’t as common, thanks to my Mint and my dog. However, it is good to have options.

Another common item that I use in uncommon ways are tongs. You can probably guess what these are for. I not only have CP, but I am also short and cannot reach past the second self in most of my kitchen cabinets. Since step stools are hard from me to climb, I often use the tongs to give me a few more inches of reach when I am in a pinch. There is a technique to using tongs, but with a bit of practice any one can master it. Though I must caution that this is not recommended for heavy or breakable items. This warning comes from personal experience.

The last item I use frequently are those reusable grocery bags. I use them to carry heavy objects, like my laptop, from room to room, especially if I am going upstairs. I can’t carry the bag on my shoulder so I hang it on my forearm, or for a hands free trip, around my neck.

Of course these tricks and techniques won’t work for everyone, but I think that all of us can benefit from thinking outside the box in order to live UNlimited.

What everyday items do you like to use in new ways?

My UNlimiters Challenge: Learning to Drive

Transportation is one area of my life where I do not have the independence I wish I had. My husband and I live in a rural area, where buses and other public transportation are not available. Therefore, when I want to go anywhere, I have to ask my husband, my parents or my friends to drive me. This really inhibits my ability to do what I want, when I want.

Physically, I am capable of driving, but learning to drive has been a huge challenge for me, a challenge that I have struggled to overcome for the last 15 years. I have worked with almost every agency available to reach this goal, but it has never worked out. Every agency has wanted me to accomplish my goal in a certain amount of time, and when I couldn’t do that; I was told that I couldn’t do it at all.

For a while, I accepted that. Then one day, I decided it was crap, and so were all the agencies I had been working with. Legally, I didn’t need them to learn to drive, so I decided I was going to do it one my own.

I took and passed driver’s education in high school, so in June, for my birthday, I went to the secretary of state and applied for my driver’s permit, for the fifth and what I hoped would be the last time. Then I purchased some temporary hand controls, my husband put them in the car and I was one my way.

Learning to drive on my own has been a lot harder than I expected. I need to practice, a lot. In order to do that, I need people to take me driving. My husband, kind of sucked at it at first, he would freak out at the slightest mistake, and his yelling would make me so nervous and stress me out so bad that I would end up crying when I finally parked the car. He didn’t mean to yell, or upset me; I knew that, but I still took it personally. I started to hate driving.

For while, I tried to drive with other people; but schedules limited my ability to practice. So my husband and I tried again. He has gotten much better and I am starting to improve as well. I still lack the confidence it take to drive well. I wish I could buy that online. Unfortunately, I am told that it will only come with time and practice.

I am probably going to have to apply for that permit at least one more time; it expires in December. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be at this point, and I can’t help but feel a little discouraged. I do not want to fail at this, so I can’t give up. I have to keep trying. No matter how long it takes me, I want to have the independence that driving can bring me. I want to go where I want, when I want and to live my life unlimited.

SHOUT AT US!

We Need Your Help!

The “Shout” section of UNlimiters is for all of you to share with us your experiences and the products or techniques you use to make life easier.  Even the simplest ideas may not have been considered as a possible solution by others; it took me a while to discover sugar cubes instead of trying to measure sugar in a teaspoon while making a huge mess.

There are three facts I have learned:

1. You and our community as a whole are incredibly inventive and resourceful at overcoming daily obstacles.

2. Your thoughts and ideas will spark other ideas which in turn will spark other ideas continuing the cycle of development.

3. Feedback is vital in life, and in this community, and encourages participation and innovation.

In this vein, you have the ability to help many others in similar situations just by sharing your own successes regardless of how small a triumph it may seem.  Although what you write in the “Shout” section is not seen by others directly, we look through the responses every day and try to get them posted and on our website.

With your help, we will create a central location where people can come to learn about and find the products or services they can actually use, recommended by the people who actually use them. In doing so, solutions will be found to both known and unknown obstacles.

You can also shout at us by commenting on our blogs. The blogs do not always mention products directly, but we would love for you to help with that. All of our writers would love to hear your feedback on their topics.

Either way we need your support.  We want UNlimiters to be shaped and designed by you.  Jump on in and shout at us!

The UNlimiter Story

I went through grade school wearing sweatpants.  Not cool, but since I struggle with zippers and buttons they were pretty much my only option. Somewhere in middle school we came up with the idea of adding elastic to a regular pair of blue jeans.  For the first time I dressed like everybody else and still kept my independence.

I have always known I wanted to run my own business and I ran a small vending machine company while still in high school.  Business was my favorite thing to talk about and my dad and I talked over hundreds of ideas during this time.  Somewhere along the way we realized that although products were available to assist in overcoming physical limitations they were hard to find.  Even with the explosion of the internet, if you don’t  know exactly what you are looking for, you aren’t likely to stumble across the very products that might be the most beneficial. I distinctly remember an incident in which I was talking to another individual with limited arm control and the topic of using electric scissors as an aide to opening difficult packages came up. When he excitedly responded that this was a great idea and he was going to order some right away I knew I was on the right track for a new business. After months of discussing it, my dad and I thought of the name (unbelievably available) and in 2009 we bought Unlimiters.com as a domain name. I owned it, I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I was busy with school and it just sat there.

In 2011, I accomplished something that had been a dream of mine for a long time when I was accepted into the number one rated entrepreneurship program in the nation, the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. With the backing of the Program Director, Ken Jones; the Director of Mentoring, Dave Cook; and my assigned mentor, Kaye Patterson, I began to resuscitate and reimagine the idea of “UNlimiters” (they liked it better than my alternative of a custard/milkshake stand which I started with).

With Kaye’s connections she helped me put together a “Board of Directors” consisting of Dick Lew, Jackie Townsend, Christine Stevens, and herself.  The willingness of this extremely talented group of people to sit down on their own time and share their knowledge and experience in putting together a business was unbelievable.  With help designing our logo, putting together presentations and slideshows and most importantly providing a sounding board for ideas and activities with people who understood the market, Unlimiters started to sound like a real company.

The idea of Unlimiters was so well received by my classmates, I was approached by one of the class’s business plan teams about joining them and using the Unlimiters idea to compete in a series of national business plan competitions.  With major help from team members Randy Hannemann, Louis McEneny, Tattiana Reznick, and Adam Trojanowski, a formal business plan was prepared to use in the competitions.  The excitement of having a number of people brainstorming together, focused on what Unlimiters could be and how to get it there was exhilarating.  The work done and ideas generated by the whole team, along with others involved with the Wolff Center was incredible and added tremendously to the vision for Unlimiters and its potential.

While all of this was going on my mentor, Kaye, set up a meeting with the University’s Director of Industrial Design, Eunsook Kwon PhD, and proposed the idea of adding a “UNlimiters” project to her design curriculum. Much to our amazement she not only added Unlimiters to her curriculum, but had her whole class use me as a subject for a user oriented design project.  All of the sudden, I had a large group of students following me around and filming my every move so they could come up with designs for goods to help me with my daily activities.  They even filmed me in the shower!

For the spring semester of 2012, the five members of the Unlimiters business plan team competed in four national competitions. Incredibly, we took first place at the Texas Christian University (article 1) (article 2) (video), University of Nebraska (article), tied for second at Chapman University (article), and placed in the top ten at San Diego State University, winning a grand total of $44,000 in the process. (video)

The members of the Industrial Design program put together designs for thirteen different “UNlimiters” products ranging from bottle openers, to a custom shower system to ways to easily deal with electrical outlets. All thirteen of the projects were extremely inventive and at the end of the term the class put on a demonstration of the products for me as well as all my friends and family.

It was quite a semester and, in fact, was one of the best times of my life.  Unfortunately, when it was all over I still had four classes to go and Unlimiters once again moved to the back burner while I finished my last semester and graduated in December of 2012.  Since school has ended, all I have done is work on making Unlimiters a reality and I am as excited as ever about the possibilities for the company.

As you can see, the first chapters of the company’s history involved a lot of really excellent people.  In order for the company to be successful, the next chapters have to be written by our customers, friends and associates who find value in our site and its offerings: both social and commercial.  We want Unlimiters to be a product designed not just by us, but by everybody involved.  If the next couple of years are near anywhere as exciting as the last couple, success is certain.  We look forward to working with you and we will keep you posted on our progress.  Please visit our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account and subscribe to our blogs.  We need your input!

Welcome to UNlimiters

UNlimiters will be the mainstream, online marketplace, providing products and services (unlimiters) proven to assist individuals in overcoming the physical obstacles of everyday life.  UNlimiters will provide access to these products whether they were designed specifically for a given challenge or whether they are common products not usually marketed towards overcoming a disability but which happen to do so, with or without modification.

People with a physical disability or those who interact with people living with these challenges have proven to be incredibly resourceful.  Every time we meet someone new to talk about the goals of UNlimiters, we are told of products used, adapted or invented to make someone’s life easier and more independent.  Some ideas are as simple as using sugar cubes instead of trying to balance a teaspoon or a better way to hold Q-tips to apply makeup for someone with limited mobility in their hands and arms.  Other ideas are as complicated as the invention of a universal wheelchair desk to be left in a high school classroom so any student can set up without disturbing the rest of the class or an electronic drain tube release for a catheter bag allowing the user to drain the bag without assistance even if they can only move a finger or arm.  UNlimiters’ aim is to provide a central marketplace for these items but also to become a place where people can share their own creativity and ideas to help make somebody else’s life a little easier. We will depend on our customers, the users of these products, to help us determine what we carry.

UNlimiters will also develop criteria for products based on usefulness, quality and customer satisfaction which will allow these products to carry the “UNlimiters Seal of Approval”.  The actual criteria will be developed in discussions with our users and we hope the seal will be worn with pride by the products who earn this distinction.

UNlimiters’ loves and celebrates the stories of the amputee who scales mountains, of the person with severe spinal cord injury who manages to walk again, of the ninety year old who goes parachuting for the first time or of the person with cerebral palsy who writes a bestselling novel using only his left foot.  But even more UNlimiters is proud of the small, incremental accomplishments people everywhere make on a regular basis.  Opening a bottle, sitting up in bed, making a phone call, going for a walk, dressing in fashionable clothing, or making a cup of coffee without assistance can be incredibly uplifting activities for those who struggle to accomplish them.  These are UNlimiters real heroes and we will only be successful if we can cater to their needs and involve them in our community. Through this community we hope to become the one-stop shop for products and services that help us gain our independence and created by the people dealing with those obstacles, including friends, families, caretakers and other supportive individuals.  We need and welcome helpful suggestions and input from all people with or without obvious disabilities so that together we face a better life for all.  We look forward to working with you.

An Incredible semester (part 2)

     At the beginning of the second semester of the WCE my mentor, Kaye and I started to talk about the possibilities of creating an Unlimiters product line. She told me of a program in the Architecture college where students design products called the ID (industrial design) program. She thought it would be interesting if we went and talked to the director of the program about Unlimiters. She knew the director from past work in the College of Architecture and thought Unlimiters could be a great opportunity for the ID program since the products would be user-based and would bring a different experience for the students. The day of the meeting I had a bad cold so I was not at 100% during the meeting, but we told her all about Unlimiters and suggested it for a part of her curriculum. We left with her saying she was on board and would think about adding an “Unlimiters” project to her curriculum for her incoming class; she also invited us to the final review of her senior class to show us their capabilities. With no idea what being a part of the curriculum would entail, I was excited nonetheless. A little while after I had this meeting, I joined the business plan team. I brought two people from the team to the final review to show them what I had in the workings. At the end of the review the director of the ID program told me that she was definitely putting Unlimiters as a part of her curriculum for the incoming class, but she was unsure whether it would be the next semester or the semester after.
     It turned out to be the following semester because a month before spring break I received an email asking if my mentor and I could come by her office to talk about the “Unlimiters” project. She told me her plans were to make each student in her class of 13, design a product that was focused around me. She asked if it was ok if her class followed me, filmed me, and asked me questions for an entire week. Being so excited and thankful for the opportunity I could only say “awesome” which merely translates to “yes”.
     A week later I was introduced to the class and the class was introduced to their subject (me).  After the introduction I preceded to hang out with them in their studio, they were extremely accepting and immediately I felt comfortable with everyone. While in the studio they broke up into four groups and assigned each group a part of my daily routine, such as getting up, going to school, eating, studying, and etc. They also divided up the days, Tuesday through Friday.  The week this began I was a bit nervous because I did not know what to expect, but knowing they were all cool people I was able to relax. It was awkward being filmed through it all, but throughout the week it felt like I was just hanging out with good friends with no fear of being judged. It was almost like being followed by paparazzi, I was filmed eating, walking, locking my door, putting things in my wallet, and etc. They captured it all and what they didn’t have on tape they would ask me about and would record me or jot down notes.
     I was an open book and answered all their questions honestly and did anything they asked. Many times I was asked the same things asked by the previous groups, but I did not mind and answered everybody’s questions. Doing this with me for an entire week allowed them to collect data on me and gave them ideas on what kind of product they would design. A few days after spring break they wanted me to join them in their studio to go over their findings. After looking at all of the data they collected, I was astonished how well they knew me. Making references to things I didn’t know about myself and things I knew, but didn’t make clear; such as, saying something was because of laziness when it had more to do with my disability. So, amazed by that finding, I told them the reason behind this was I hate pointing to or blaming my disability for anything.
     As soon as the students decided what area exactly they wanted to focus on, the filming and the questioning started all over again, but this time individually and much more focused. I was filmed walking in front of people, getting dressed, bathing (with a bathing suit), opening containers, and on and on. This continued throughout semester. I would constantly hang out at their studio answering their questions, testing out their prototypes, and just to hang out. There were many nights where I stayed there until after 11; it was like my third home. First being my apartment, second being the WCE working on the business plan and the presentation for the business plan competitions, and the third being the ID studio. As they got closer to their final review I made a point to be at the studio as much as I could answering as many questions as they had. Sadly due to our final competition in Orange County I couldn’t attend the final review. But they held a separate event for me, my family, and the business plan team where they each presented their designs to us. Everything we saw was a great design. I was so grateful for the whole experience and can confidently say I have 13 new friends.
Some examples of the designs include:
Wheelchair briefcase – an adaptable wheelchair easy accessible bag
Newly designed wallet – made the contents in the wallet easier to grab
Electrical outlet add-on – made it easier to plug things in to an electrical outlet
Dispenser – made it easier to pour a measurable amount of solids
Holder/opener- made it easier to open things with one hand
Button looper – made it easier for me to button buttons

An Incredible Semester (part 1 – redone and extended)

     When I entered the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, I had been discussing the concept of Unlimiters with my dad for over two years.  During the second semester of the program I was approached by a group of four students who wanted to help me develop my concept further and enter the idea in business plan competitions representing the school. I gladly accepted the help and joined the team. The first thing we did as a group was recruit MBA students by presenting the idea to a MBA entrepreneurship class. Our presentation went over well enough that we had 6 to 7 interviews to narrow it down to two students to help us with the process. The remaining weeks of the semester we spent talking about the idea and refining it.
     The writing of the business plan began shortly before our third semester in the program. We put one of the MBA students in charge of developing the “beta” website which we planned to use mainly for a marketing analysis tool. We spent a lot of time together discussing the logistics of the business plan and the time we spent apart was dedicated to writing our designated sections of the plan. As soon as we felt a bit comfortable with the plan we started to talk about the competitions we were going to enter. We decided to enter five different competitions even though two wanted us to submit our business plan right away before we were completely ready.  We were declined by the first one since the plan was our first rough draft.
     As time went on we continued editing our plan and practicing our presentation; we presented to our class many times before our first competition in Nebraska. The general format of the competitions we entered was a 10 to 15 minute presentation and then 10 to 15 minutes of Q&A with a panel of judges. A week prior to the competition in Nebraska, we had to submit our plan and by this point we felt pretty good about it.   During our spring break we had two competitions to go to, one in Nebraska and another one in California.
     In Nebraska we placed first in the undergrad category. The day before we presented, we had a booth up displaying information about Unlimiters. We had many people, judges and other teams, pass by our booth surprised at the fact that we were undergrads. The second competition was the one where we had to submit our first rough draft, and it was also one where we had had to take our MBA student to since it was a grad level competition. We were the only under grads at this competition, and the only thing that qualified us was our MBA student. We did not place in California, but we managed to get a standing ovation, a venture capitalist interested, and we advanced to the wild card round (meaning that in the first leg of the completion we got second place out of five).  We strongly believe that if we weren’t judged on our first rough draft of the plan, we would of easily advanced to the finals. Once we got back from California we had a month break until our next round of competitions. In that time we made slight changes to the business plan and the presentation. The third competition in Dallas was during the last day of Wolffest (out senior term project running a food stand for three days). We managed to fly out to Dallas the night of our second day at Wolffest. We got there and learned we had to be up at 7 am the following morning.  Unrehearsed, we felt like we needed to practice before going to bed. We made it to bed at 11 pm and made it to TCU at 8 am where we learned we were the first to present in our leg; meaning that we had virtually no time to rehearse beforehand. We managed to place second meaning we weren’t finalists but giving us another chance to advance to the finals in the wild card round. The next day, after waking up a little after the first round we came in first in the wild card round. Then, on the third day after a good night’s sleep, we came in first beating the school that beat us the previous day. The following week we headed to Orange County for our final competition where we competed with undergrads, grads and doctorates; we tied for second place. Four competitions, two first place finishes, a second place, and one, well we tried.
     We presented one last time at our graduation for families, students, teachers, and faculty to see our winning presentation. All in all, it was an amazing experience.
Video of our presentation (and Q&A) at TCU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqJowLfOERY

An incredible semester (part 1)

Last summer the program director of the WCE (Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship) posted on Facebook telling my class that the program was looking to form two business plan teams and asking for volunteers. My first thought was to volunteer and be more active in the program. I figured by becoming more active it would force me to be out of my comfort zone and help me to gain more confidence. After debating with myself for a day or two I decided against it since I did not know much about it. As soon as summer ended and school started our teacher told us more about the business plan competition and informed us that they already put together the 2 teams for the competitions. The teams would write their own business plans and compete nationally presenting them to judges. Once the teams started to meet regularly I was approached by one of my friends in the class telling me that her team was interested in using Unlimiters as their business idea for the competitions.  She asked me if I could present my idea to the whole team. A few weeks later they decided to go with my business concept, Unlimiters; in turn I had to join the team. By joining the team I got four people helping me write the plan, a chance for all of us to get national recognition, and a chance to get funding for the business. Plus, on a personal level I now was forced out of my comfort zone giving me the opportunity to gain more confidence. Soon after joining the team we recruited 2 MBA students to help out with the plan and the concept. The majority of the semester was spent brainstorming and refining the Unlimiters concept. We didn’t actually start writing the till early this year, but since we talked about it so much writing the actual plan was pretty simple. Right as we started school back up we started rushing to complete everything and submit what we needed in order to compete in the competitions. As of now we are set to compete in 4 competitions nationally.  Currently we are focusing on our presentation and rehearsing it daily. This whole experience with the business plan team so far has been unbelievable for me.
    Part 2 coming soon…

 

I’m Back

I put my Unlimiters idea on hiatus for a little while hence my last and first blog being 18 months ago. I came up with another idea and decided to put Unlimiters on the backburner for a while. My 2nd idea was a frozen custard milkshake shop. In my mind it was a lot less risky because I always saw frozen custard shops with lines out the door and I also knew there were none in the downtown Houston area. I thought specializing in making milkshakes too would add my own twist and not be just run of the mill bland custard shop and increase my chances of being successful.
Last year I applied to the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston (rated the #1 entrepreneurship program in the nation) where they accept only 32 people a year. I heard you needed a business idea to be able to apply so they can help you develop the idea and have you ready to start the business upon graduating. After I applied I got called in to do an interview and I told them about my frozen custard idea. Two months later I got accepted to the program.
One of the many perks of the program is that each person accepted gets a specially selected mentor to help us along our entrepreneurial journey. My mentor is amazing. One day she and I were talking on one of our lunch outings about my business idea and she wasn’t too keen on frozen custard. I told her about Unlimiters, an idea I came up with a year ago and she loved it. She thought I should talk to my entrepreneurship teacher about which idea I should pursue through the program. So the next day I went to meet with him and he thought that I should definitely drop my custard shop idea and continue with my Unlimiters idea.
I told my mentor what my teacher said and soon after she got me in contact with people that could help me develop my idea and help me minimize the variables. About a month ago I sat down with my mentor and the people she introduced me too, and showed them a power point presentation on UNlimiters. After seeing the presentation They thought UNlimiters would be a complete success.
What is UNlimiters? An online destination offering tools, resources, and products to make every day life easier for the physically challenged. UNlimiters, Your New Flight to an Unlimited Life.
Through this blog I hope to share my own stories along with educating people about disabilities and helping to create a global community where we all can share our successes.

My 1st blog

Hello! My name is Justin Farley, I turn 21 next week, this is my first blog ever, and I have Cerebral Palsy. My handicap (or disability) affects my whole body, it impairs my mobility and my speech. I couldn’t sit up until I was 4 years old and stepped my first step at the age of 5. Throughout my life I have set tough goals for myself. The first goal I remember setting for myself was to walk 100 steps. I managed to accomplish that goal at the age of 10. A lot of that is thanks to my parents for making me use a walker instead of leaving me in the prescribed wheelchair and my own persistence to accomplish goals.

I am starting this blog because I just bought the web domain “unlimiters.com”. My ultimate goal for unlimiters.com is to make it into a web store that sells items to make people’s everyday life a little bit simpler. Having a disability I get tired of people telling me I am limited to what I am able to do, so that is where the website name unlimiters came from. Hopefully I can make it into a recognized brand name. “Unlimiters, unlimit yourself.”

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