When Matthew Walzer thought about going to college, he was a little nervous. He suffers from cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects his walking, balance and certain fine motor skills. While he handles most of the chores, he still struggles to tie his shoes.
âIt really started to bother me, especially because the further you get in high school, the more you think about the future,â said Walzer, 25, of Southwest Florida TODAY. “How am I going to live alone and be independent if I have to worry about my parents coming to tie my shoes every dayâ¦ No one wants to feel overwhelmed by something so simple for most people as tie his shoes. “
So, in 2012, the 16-year-old wrote a letter to nike. Walzer’s letter explained his dilemma:
âI’ve worn Nike basketball shoes my whole life. I can only wear this type of shoe because I need ankle support to walk, âhe said. wrote. âI know Nike makes slip-ons, sandals and other types of shoes. However, I and many other people with physical disabilities cannot wear them due to lack of support. “
Almost a decade after that letter, Nike’s Go FlyEase offers a completely hands-free way for people to put on shoes, making it easier for many people with disabilities to wear shoes.
Walzer said he sent the letter for himself and for other people with disabilities facing similar challenges.
âI wanted to go to college,â he said. âThe college of my choice (included) didn’t have to worry about who was going to put my shoes on every day. I wrote a post for it, but I wrote it for the millions of other disabled people around the world who have trouble putting their shoes on for one reason or another.
Her letter went viral after a “Nice Kicks” sneaker blog shared it. Still, he didn’t expect an answer and when one of them arrived less than two months later, he was stunned.
âThey wanted to know what my specific needs were,â Walzer said. âThey wanted to know why I can’t tie my shoes, to hear it directly from me. Also, I explained that I have a lack of dorsiflexion and plantar flexion in my feet. So, it’s hard for me to put my foot in a shoe.
When Walzer was 17 he received a pair of shoes from Nike with “a zipper in the middle, and Walzer on the zipper pull, then a Velcro on the ankle, no laces”.
âIt was the first time in my life at 17 that I put on my own shoes independently,â he said. âIt was an extremely emotional moment for me and my family. Lots of tears.
From 2012 to 2015, Walzer spoke with Nike designers to give them their take on what worked and what didn’t. He was able to try on a pair of ‘back entry’ shoes which also made it easier for him. He commends Nike for its commitment to working with people with disabilities.
âBusinesses really need to make a point of not only listening to the disability community, but also designing with disability,â he said. âAs a disabled population, we have always had to adapt to the environment with literally everything: clothes, shoes, technology. Now, really, the world has to start adjusting to us and thinking about how they can make itâ¦ easier for people with disabilities.
Sarah Reinertsen, who works with the Nike FlyEase innovation team and who is the first woman to use a prosthetic leg to complete an Ironman race, said working with athletes and consumers remains essential to their process.
âWe always listen to the voice of the athlete,â Reinersten said TODAY. âWe have been very careful to listen to the voices of people with disabilities. “
She said the development of suitable footwear began when an employee suffered a stroke and then struggled to put on shoes afterward. Contributions from people such as Walzer, disabled Nike staff, and athletes helped push the design forward.
âWhen you really connect, listen and hang out, it becomes so personal,â she said. “There is this willingness to resolve even more because you care because you want to help people.”
Universal design, creating products that can be used by anyone, leads to better products for everyone.
âWhen you design for the most extreme needs, you unlock benefits for everyone. And while these innovations can have even more impact for those with extreme needs, we all benefit and it makes our lives easier, âsaid Reinersten. âWe don’t just want to imagine what it looks like, we have to talk to people and say, ‘Hey, we tried that. How does this work for you? “
She is thrilled with the hands-free shoe and what it means for people with and without disabilities.
âThis is just the start of the journey,â she said. “The shoe is so beautiful and I love the position that it really changed the way people get in and out (of a shoe).”