Makers Profile

Inventor Creates Device to Help With Mobility, Confidence and Independence

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Your Mobility Innovations

You’re unlikely to meet someone who is as driven, focused and passionate about his life and Brett Lyons. The fact that he gets around most days in a wheelchair and lives with the physical challenges imposed by cerebral palsy is almost immaterial in terms of his attitude, his positivity and his hunger to make a difference in the world.

Where the CP comes into play is that he has understood for his entire life that the physical limitations of people living with similar ailments, or anyone impacted by a lowered sense of independence and mobility, particularly the elderly, are not being served by certain utilitarian items in their day to day lives.

In Lyons’ case, the inadequacy of grab bars available for home use, and particularly those installed in public facilities, prompted an initial idea as a youngster – an idea that was revisited as a young adult and has spawned the design for a new adjustable grab bar and the creation of a nascent company called Your Mobility Innovations.

“Growing up I realized that there were a lot of things that weren’t given very much thought for the disabled and elderly community. And a lot of people who end up in a situation like me don’t experience it until later in life and don’t really have the opportunity to really make a big impact on improving things. So I felt compelled to do something. I think because I had to go through this my whole life and having a great support system around me has allowed me the chance to make a big impact,” said Lyons, who grew up in Frankford, attended Bayside Secondary School and Loyalist College in Belleville.

“I knew that my life wasn’t going to be consistent and you need something that adapts to you when you change, because you’re body, your abilities, you mobility is not always going to be the same. So hopefully this product is something that will allow people to be a little more independent and go out and do the things they really want to do.”

As he has said, Lyons has a genuine no-holds-barred attitude and has not allowed his disability to impair his quality of life. He plays sports, he goes sailing and does all sorts of activities that you would expect a young man with a zest for life to do. But he realizes that because of this and the supportive friends and family around him, he has help that others may not have. It’s this drive to help level the playing field for others with physical limitations and mobility issues because of disability or age that has motivated his invention and his company.

“This isn’t just about safety; it’s about giving back independence and confidence to those people who hold those things very dear to themselves. When you are disabled or elderly you start to lose a lot of those things and you really hold tight onto the things that you can do for yourself, and with products like our adjustable grab bar, we would like to give back one of those things,” Lyons said, the passion and focus evident in his voice.

He has been working alongside his best friend and partner Dylan Houlden for more than two years to develop a prototype and get the company going. The idea and business and marketing plan put together by the two garnered the attention and involvement of a number of innovation and tech-based organizations, such as the Kingston-based Launch Lab, Loyalist College (the ESBL Post-Graduate Program as well as assistance from business students), and Queen’s University (Engineering students helped with design and specs, PARTEQ Innovations are helping with patent applications while the Business Law Clinic has helped the company with its incorporation.)

“Dylan and spent a lot of time trying to invent this and it went from being more than a pipe dream to a reality once we got some of these partners involved. We are not engineers, and I knew that the idea would work but it just wasn’t quite ‘real world’ enough and when Queen’s got involved, they solved a lot of the problems that we had seen, and it really lit a fire under us to push to bring this to market and have the impact that we know it will have on the community,” Lyons said.

At the precocious age of eight, Lyons realized that the types of grab bars one found in malls, restaurants and other public places were inadequate for both growing bodies, but also declining physical abilities. He went to his father, a millwright, to try and suss out the idea, but they couldn’t figure it out at the time. The idea never left him and the frustration continued to mount as he saw nothing was being done to mitigate or improve the situation.

“The problem in public places is they are in a very generic spot on the walls in order to accommodate a bunch of different people. And in reality I would say it almost accommodates no one. If you don’t have a lot of strength and balance, you might not even have the ability to make it work at all. So that’s what results in the injuries and embarrassment that prevent people from wanting to engage more in their community,” he said.

“In a private home the biggest thing is that you grow or degrade. For me, I did a lot of growing from being a little kid to an adult and you can see by all the holes in the wall how many times we had to adjust the grab bars to suit the changes in my body. And then you may be in situations where your mobility starts to go downhill because of surgeries or old age or disability and you need more support and that support needs to change over time.”

It’s remarkable that no-one else has thought of the idea of creating portable, adjustable grab bars that are not attached to walls and do not require the use of tools, but as far as can be determined, Lyons and Houlden seem to be on the cusp of a bit of a mobility revolution.

“We would like to focus, at first, on marketing it to public places, like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, restaurant chains and municipal buildings because those places would have more money to spend on accessibility than say a private homeowner. If we can do that, then we can start to mass produce them and that would lower the overall manufacturing cost and make them more affordable to individuals and families,” he said, adding that if the product does come to market, one of their challenges would be to try to get the adjustable grab bar covered under insurance programs.

“I know that sometimes it’s frustrating because here’s a cool new product and maybe it’s not covered but maybe it is covered but you don’t qualify and can’t afford it. It’s pretty frustrating when you see a product that could possibly change your life for the better and can’t get it. So I would like to find a way that we could solve that problem.”

Educating the general public, and those companies and institutions running seniors homes and public buildings, has been a challenge and will continue to be a challenge, but Lyons is fine with talking about the issues of mobility and the inadequacy of current assistive devices such as grab bars if it means enlightening more people.

“I really was forced to learn, at the start of this project, that a lot of people didn’t have a disabled or elderly person in their life to make them realize that the current products didn’t work. But when you start to explain to people, they do pick it up pretty quickly as to what the challenges are. The biggest thing for me was that the majority didn’t know about these issues and I had to work that into how we talked about our business. If I went right into what our product does people would say ‘yeah that’s cool but doesn’t that piece of metal that’s bolted onto the wall do the same thing?’” he explained.

“One of the things that’s crucial to our marketing is getting people to put themselves in the shoes of their grandmother or disabled friend. One of the things we like to say in our pitch is it’s not just about somebody in a wheelchair like me. I have the attitude and I am hard headed and I am going to do what I want to do, no matter what the challenge is. But many others aren’t like that, or don’t have the ability to speak for themselves or have someone to advocate on their behalf.”

The plan at the moment is to keep tweaking the design of the adjustable grab bar and get it to market, and build Your Mobility Innovations alongside it. Lyons said in a perfect world he would like his and Houlden’s company become a beacon for other disabled folks who have innovative ideas, or who are simply looking for a job where they can make a difference.

“We do really want to get this done, as well as maybe create some employment for other disabled people like myself. If we can hire some other local disabled people who are really passionate about what we’re doing, that would be a bonus. We really want to bring this product to market and improve the independence of the people we are going to be impacting,” he said, adding that down the road, there may be other life-changing inventions to come.

“I think Dylan and I are pretty committed to the inventing side of the business and we would like to stay pretty connected to that. We definitely have other products we would like to bring to market, but we are focussing on the grab bar right now. The difference is we are looking at these other products from an entrepreneurial point of view more and more as we go through this process.”