Western students roll out 'Wild Wheels' for wheelchair users to express themselves

Contact: Jillian Fraze

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A student project to promote pride and self-expression for wheelchair users while benefiting Western Michigan University's disability services will be on display during Kalamazoo's Art Hop Friday through Sunday, March 1-3.

Occupational therapy doctoral student Alexis Bailey, B.S.'20, will join participants from the Center for Disability Services Skill-building Program to debut "Wild Wheels" Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at The Spirit of Kalamazoo, 154 S. Kalamazoo Mall.

Wild Wheels are wheelchair wheel-enhancement covers made of foam board that are hand painted by adults with disabilities who attend the on-campus Skill-building Program. Available for $20 a pair, proceeds of their sale support experiences and special outings for program participants. The purpose of Wild Wheels is to promote pride and self-expression for wheelchair users. They're made on campus this semester with help from Cory Kalkowski, shop supervisor for the Richmond Institute for Design and Innovation, who cuts the varying sizes of foam board for the center at no charge.

At the day program, successful engagement during this process is made possible by utilizing adaptive painting techniques and equipment to assist individuals in making successful works of art for themselves and others. The techniques include stenciling, paint rolling, utilizing extended and built-up handled brushes, spin art and use of rotating phonograph. The Sammons Center for Innovation and Research in Occupational Therapy-based Technology has provided funding for program supplies and materials.

Bailey of Muskegon, Michigan, is heading up the project as her capstone experience and has been responsible for organizing community outreach and fundraising opportunities for program participants to interact during public art fairs and events. She adds the project allows participants at the day program to design, create and sell their artwork. 

"I have been able to build rapport with consumers at Center for Disability Services by sharing an interest in art-based activities. This experience has allowed me to gain confidence in my ability to advocate for vulnerable populations and the distinct value of OT (occupational therapy). The distinct value of OT includes improving health and quality of life through facilitating participation and engagement in occupations. Occupations are the meaningful, necessary and familiar activities of everyday life which translates in this situation as creating and engaging in art," says Bailey.

This process allows student staff to collaborate on ways to improve engagement by adapting art-based activities to meet the needs of all participants. 

Established more than 40 years ago, the Skill-building Program provides opportunities for adults living with disabilities to remain engaged within their community by providing volunteer opportunities within the community, skills to promote independence and help for individuals to maintain personal health and well-being. It is housed in the Center for Disability Services, which is part of the College of Health and Human Services,

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