Many people wouldn’t expect footwear to be a big concern for people who can’t walk, but wheelers know — if you don’t move your feet all day, you’ve got to make sure that things fit just right. Additionally, if you can’t move your fingers that well, it can be tricky to get your kicks on and off and in the proper place. Finding shoes that fit both these bills — fitting right and being easy to use — can be difficult. Here are two solutions that may spare your feet and your mind.
Shoe Surgery: Stopping the Sores
Since my injury 13 years ago, I’ve had pressure sores all over my body. Over time I’ve learned to avoid most types, but recurring sores on my feet were impossible to figure out. I can’t move my feet, and can’t exactly do a pressure release. I could never find shoes that didn’t cut off circulation by my left ankle or right Achilles. It seemed that every shoe curled in on the back and put pressure right where it shouldn’t go: where my heel meets my calf. No matter which shoes I tried — my old skating shoes, some leather Doc Martens, even some fleece-lined Ugg sneakers — they dug in the back of my heels. There was always some broken skin and sometimes much more.
It turned out that the solution wasn’t another product, but an old-school innovation. Instead of returning the Doc Martens, I asked the owner of the store I bought them from if he knew where I could get them adjusted. He pointed me toward my local cobbler. If you didn’t know, a cobbler is a specialist who helps people replace worn-out shoe soles, restore leather, and make small modifications.
The store owner had been working in the shoe business for 20 years but said she hadn’t dealt with my situation before. Together, we worked to find a solution. At first, we tried just stretching the leather on both sides — pulling the left ankle out sideways, and stretching back the right heel — but that didn’t quite do the trick. The next step for my shoes was a little bit of surgery: cutting away part of the left shoe’s outside-ankle area and expanding the right shoe with some brand-new leather. I had to leave my Docs at the shoe shop for a couple of days, but when I came back, things fit perfectly. My attendant and I made sure there was enough room to avoid pressure, and within a couple of weeks my skin had healed up just fine. I did the same thing with my other shoes and everything has been great ever since.
If you’re having problems finding footwear that fits, or if you have shoes you love but don’t quite work, a visit to your local cobbler could be the solution.
Billy Footwear: Designed by a Quad, For Everyone
Comfortable shoes are important, but it’s no good if you can’t put them on. Plenty of people with disabilities don’t have the dexterity to tie a shoelace, which means having to ask for help. But for people who want to do their own routine, or just change shoes midday, what’s the alternative? Flip-flops? Loafers? All seem like shoe types that might leave something to desire.
Billy Footwear is solving that problem. Billy Price and Darin Donaldson started the company in 2015 and now feature a line of fashionable, functional shoes that use zippers instead of shoe laces. The venture spawned out of Price’s experience as a C5-6 quad of 20 years. Although he learned plenty of independent living skills in rehab, putting on shoes was always a problem. “You can use alternatives like bigger shoes or shoes with smooth tops, but you can see something looks different,” he says. “I wanted shoes that looked normal.”
Price and Donaldson, who knew each other from high school and reconnected in a chance encounter in 2012, originally teamed up to produce a pair of adaptive ski gloves. Donaldson had launched Swootz.com, a successful women’s footwear line, in 2011, and the duo had always discussed the idea of building shoes. “Darin, being the entrepreneur, pushed to think bigger and create a solution that would not just work for me, but would also be fashionable enough for mainstream,” Price says. They were developing a prototype and seeking opportunities when a recruiter from the Oxygen network reality show, Quit Your Day Job, who had seen the adaptive gloves, got in touch and asked if they would be a part of the show. “Our timeline was accelerated by the show — it was a rather chaotic time between March and June of 2015 — but it truly was the catalyst to get us moving, regardless of how haphazard some of the steps were.”
The shoes range from sneakers to hightops and cover men’s, women’s and children’s designs. The zippers themselves blend in above the toes, looking almost like a line of stitches around the front of any other pair of sneakers. Price considers them “universal design,” because they can be worn by people with and without disabilities — and many nondisabled folks even prefer them to shoes with laces. Parents have been especially receptive, as they are easy for children to put on.
So far, the shoes have gotten rave reviews. After the children’s line expanded to a total of 12 models, Nordstrom started carrying the shoes in brick and mortar stores at the beginning of August this year. The shoes are also available online at Nordstrom.com and Zappos.com. Price said Zappos was particularly excited, and has showcased the shoes in a new department, Zappos Adaptive.
“We get great delight from adding value to others,” says Price. He sees Billy Footwear as helping to dissolve the line between adaptive and non-adaptive clothing. “Although we can satisfy the adaptive market, we are not constrained by it. Our customer target is everyone! We are all equal. And by design, our shoes embody that belief.”