When you think of shoes, you may not consider them as wheelchair accessible vehicles, but in a very big way, they are. In August of 2012, Matthew Walzer, a 17-year-old with cerebral palsy from Parkland, Florida, wrote an impassioned letter to Nike CEO, Mark Parker, asking for accessible shoes designed for people with disabilities. Little did he know, the letter would soon turn his dream of accessible shoes into a reality.

Accessible Shoes from Nike

An excerpt from Matthew’s letter reads, “I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing.” This open letter to Nike quickly caught the attention of friends and strangers alike, gaining social media attention and support as users spread the word using the hashtag #NikeLetter, and even garnered coverage on the sneaker-focused blog nicekicks.com. Matthew achieved his goal when the letter found it’s way to Mark Parker, who was in London at the time for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Cerebral Palsy Friendly Shoe.

Within three days of writing the request for accessible shoes, Matthew received a call from 23-year-old John Poyner, a product manager for Nike. The first thing he wanted to share with Matthew was that he, too, has cerebral palsy and had the same passion for sports. This first conversation lasted nearly an hour. Later, Matthew received another call from Nike designer Tobie Hatfield and the two discussed the physical challenges and difficulties in finding adequate shoes, as well as what elements would be included in a cerebral palsy-friendly shoe.

Just months later, a special package arrived at the Walzer home. Matthew received a pair of custom Nike Hyperdunks with a few special twists like zippers instead of laces and a large Velcro ankle wrap. They were even personalized with “Walzer” on the zipper. And as was said above, you may not think of shoes as wheelchair accessible vehicles, especially since they don’t have wheels, but they have become a new vehicle for disability accessibility.

We Are all Athletes

When asked “Why Nike?” Matthew said he was motivated to write Parker based on a famous quote from the company’s co-founder, Bill Bowerman: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” While the shoes aren’t a perfect resolution to his needs, they have kick started an important discussion on accessible shoes for people with disabilities.

This mobility safety update has been brought to you by NMEDA – the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. Do you need information on how to make your vehicle wheelchair accessible or upgraded with the latest and most convenient features? Contact a NMEDA dealer in your local area. Your local NMEDA member is a mobility equipment and accessibility expert!

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