We are thrilled to have the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation feature our Buttons 2 Button Magnetic Shirt Adaptors in this winter’s newsletter! It is exciting to know that we can help millions eliminate button frustration.
Written by Anna Chamberlin, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Today’s Care. Tomorrow’s Cure.® Aug. 13, 2019
Buttons 2 Button by Wareologie is a product, founded by Gina Adams, which makes fashion choices more accessible to individuals living with a disability. They are magnetic covers for buttons that easily snap together to allow anyone, even someone with no movement of their hands, to use them.
“30 million people have hand limitations and rely on someone else to get dressed. We have a really unique opportunity with a simple, affordable solution to help restore tremendous levels of dignity,” Gina explained. She envisions adapters being helpful to a broad range of individuals living with disabilities such as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinsons, arthritis or recovering from hand surgery.
Gina wanted to create a product that is accessible to all and restores confidence to people living with disabilities. She understands how frustrating it is for someone not to be able to get dressed on their own, as her stepfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This lead to the creation of Wareologie, which is the backing company for the product Buttons 2 Button, and hopefully similar, helpful products in the future. However, she revealed that the idea for this company actually came about decades earlier as she worked in the corporate, social, and civil sector throughout her career. “When I was working for North Face, I knew clothing made for able-bodied people doesn’t work for people with disabilities. This is a really underserved group of active people. These are the most courageous people, yet they have to use duct tape to keep their mittens on. So this company was basically conceived 20 years ago when I identified this problem.”
Eventually, she had the idea to create a company that combined all these passions in a way that would benefit the community.
Developing magnet buttons
When she first had the idea of starting a company, she looked for inspiration from the paralysis community. She went around asking members of the community two questions: What are you doing right now to help with clothing? Moreover, what do you wish you had to help with clothing? She found that many people who were living with spinal cord injury had manipulated accessories to adapt to their daily lives. She took inspiration from these adaptations and began developing ideas for her products.
While looking for feedback, she met James Murtha, who sustained a C4 level injury, leaving him with high-level quadriplegia with limited movement in arms, and no movement in his legs and hands. After speaking with him, the idea for Buttons 2 Button was born.
During their first encounter, James revealed how he managed to stay warm using flannel shirts wrapped around his neck as a scarf. He also explained to her how the sleeves would frequently unravel, and he wished that there was some way they can snap together magnetically to prevent that from happening all the time. Gina took this idea and thought about how it could become a product to serve the communities needs.
“My intention was more for those sleeves to keep together, not for a dress shirt but that’s what Gina ended up coming up with, and it works so well,” James said. About a year later, James checked in to see the progress she had made, learning that his idea was becoming a reality. Gina, seeing the benefit of having his perspective, offered him a position on the team as Chief Innovation Officer where he designs, develops, and tests products.
Buttons 2 Button is beginning to take off under the help of Gina, James, and the other members of the team. The marketing aspect of their product is more important than ever; this is because their intentions are more than just making money.
“Products and services need to have that exposure to get it to people. I already see what effect this has on the overall community and the market. I mean it’s already made an impact in the last several years with different brands. For a while, it was only disabled people working on adaptive clothing, but now big companies like Tommy Hilfiger and Target are starting to create adaptive products or at least supply them,” James said.”It’s creating awareness to this population of need.”
Wareologie is a company that not only makes people’s lives better by supplying adaptive clothing but by also raising awareness for more companies to do the same. They not only strive to be a major company that makes adaptive apparel, accessories, and beyond, but they hope that all companies can gain inspiration from them and make their products accessible to people living with a disability as well.
By Contributing Editor Pamela Miller
“It’s the secondary losses that are the most painful, maybe because I didn’t see them coming,” explained James Murtha, Ware·ologie’s Chief Innovation Officer. Like when he graduated with a masters in social work and spent a year looking for employment, only to be turned away again and again. “That’s part of why I’m so excited to be a part of Ware·ologie and Buttons 2 Button. We do and will continue to employ people who are disabled because they are still smart, creative, hard-working people. In some cases, working harder to work against prejudice.
In October 2014, James had a mountain bike accident in Snowmass Village Colorado, leaving him paralyzed, with minimal use of his hands. He began working with Gina just a couple of years ago, offering his perspective to her magnetic buttons idea and sharing the hacks he has created for life since 2014, retrofitting his surroundings with self-made accommodations.
Just recently, James was able to move into his own apartment and live independently. Prior to that he went through a lot of roommate turnover, as some were more willing to assist him with daily living activities. But, now he’s happy to be on his own, with a regularly scheduled caregiver who comes in for regular daily care.
Today his plate is more than full. James, an MSW Therapist, is a RAISE Advisory Council member who focuses on the needs of caregivers, and holds a seat on a policy advocacy board for those dealing with disabilities.
James is a member of the policy advocacy regional champions group for the Christopher and Dana Reeves’ Foundation. He attends regular meetings and acts as a liaison to state representatives and senators to raise awareness of the issues relating to spinal cord disabilities on Capitol Hill.
Most recently, James has accepted a seat as an advisory council member to the Secretary of Health and Human Services administration on community living. In 2018, the RAISE family caregiver act was passed to create initiatives to support family members in taking care of people with disabilities and/or the elderly. the RAISE Act also directed the establishment of the Family Caregiving Advisory Council. The council is charged with providing recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on effective models of both family caregiving and support to family caregivers, as well as improving coordination across federal government programs.
Since those days when he gave feedback to Gina on her first mock-up product, James has had passion for Ware·ologie and the promise it holds to not only help patients and caregivers get time back and assist in the process of dressing and undressing, but in regards to raising awareness of spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s Disease, and other obstacles and struggles that the disabled and elderly face on a daily basis. James is an officer within the organization and also an equity partner. Not a bad vantage point, at all.
“It’s been an incredible experience to be a part of a social entrepreneurship venture to restore independence to people living with disabilities. Disability impacts me directly and bettering the situation for myself and others is something that I have a passion for. Going into this experience, I had zero former business training aside from a business 101 class I took in undergrad and a Ross business school MBA class about leadership I took as an elective while I was getting my MSW at the University of Michigan school of social work. Hence, my time working with Gina has been my own case study/trial by fire MBA education.
Aside from the business and life lessons I am learning and aside from the prototypes I received, the connections I’ve made, and several free meals from Gina, I have not earned a salary or any monetary compensation for my work in the business up to this point. I do it, though, because I believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing and want to see the magnetic button adapters brought to the masses because I believe it will make a difference.
One of my additional hopes, in fact it is a united goal of all of us working for Ware·ologie, is that we will be able to bring in more workers who have disabilities. I feel they will bring the same innovation, passion, and drive that I have given. It’s not to say that able-bodied people won’t give the same blood, sweat, and tears that people with disabilities would but I feel that such people with disabilities have a lot to offer and are more likely to go all in, as I have.”
Caregiving: It’s an Inside Job
By Pam Miller
The year I turned 23, when most of my peers were starting their careers post college, I took the road less travelled and quit my first job to become an end of life caregiver for a family member.
There were a number of decisions to make when my stepfather became terminally ill with bone cancer. Chief among them was putting together a plan for his daily care. I had just started working full time at a manufacturing plant, crafting the descriptive words on random boxes of home products. But, as my mom and I discussed care for the man who had helped raise me since I was nine years old, it became apparent that neither one of us could emotionally tolerate the idea of putting him into a care facility. We brought Hospice on board, and two weeks later it became clear, that even with all of their resources, my mom still needed help. I quit my job, packed a bag, and settled back at home for an undetermined amount of time.
Learning the daily work of caring for a patient at home was overwhelming. As so many people who have been a caregiver to a family member know, it is exhausting, physically demanding work.
As weeks turned into months, sleep was less and less of an option. I pushed away anyone who would try to get me to take a break. I felt too much guilt, which now I see was borne out of a feeling of helpless frustration. Giving my all, I was helpless to change the circumstances or outcome of our situation. When my stepdad could no longer swallow, I took to swabbing his mouth with water. The nurses had told us this was part of the process, but I could not see how uncomfortable his dry mouth and lips made him and do nothing. So, despite no sleep, and that my legs and feet had never hurt worse in my life, I would stand there in the 95-degree heat of our unconditioned house in the middle of summer, and continuously swab water. I was out of my mind with grief, helpless to change the course of events. When finally persuaded to lay down in a bedroom, I began to laugh uncontrollably, which shortly turned to sobbing. I had pushed my needs aside for so long, ignoring what I needed to process, that every emotion came pushing out, leaving me an exhausted mess of a human. My heart broke further when I realized he had heard me crying, and was distraught over my well-being. I had turned myself into an emotional time-bomb, just waiting to go off.
This shared experience of caregiving as become a common story amongst millions of people each year.
“If caregivers are not healthy, mentally well-balanced and spiritually sound, then those for whom they care will suffer.”―Leeza Gibbons
According to a Merrill Lynch study eight in ten Americans say that caregiving is the “new normal” in American families. Forty million Americans are currently caregivers providing care for nearly 50 million aging or disabled adults. Caregivers must learn to care for themselves first and foremost.
Caregivers often take financial losses, have their own health deteriorate, as well as lose touch with friends, and have less time to care for their own needs and often, their own children. Frustration and resentment are difficult to handle, and often lead to increased feelings of guilt and isolation.
“Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.”— Unknown
Here are a few suggested tips on how to manage caregiver well-being:
- Take time to process emotions. Whether journaling or meditating, checking in with oneself every day leads to easier decisions about what type of self-care is needed.
- Connect with other caregivers in a support group, in person or online. Members can share stories, ask for advice, and empathize with each other’s experiences.
- Create an easy-to-follow schedule for healthy eating habits, exercise, and regular sleep. These regular habits of health create a strong personal foundation that makes caring for others easier.
- Schedule regular preventative care appointments with personal physician.
- Forgiveness and grace for self are critical and allow the caregiver to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Explore techniques and products that can help with the daily tasks you perform for your patient.
- Take personal breaks. Ask for help. Research outside volunteer groups that can provide weekly breaks of an hour or two, one to two days per week, especially for those providing long-term care that is often associated with caring for those with disabilities.
The need for caregivers will only increase from here as our large baby boomer generation ages, more people survive strokes, more people need rehabilitation, more people deal with disabilities from aging, accidents and illnesses. According to SpinalCord.com, over 80% of caregivers asked said they would not change a thing in providing care for their person. It is a deeply rewarding experience and makes all the difference for the individual in need.
The most important thing for caregivers to remember is that their capacity to assist those that need help increases when they first make sure their own needs are met, and that they are practicing consistent self-care.