Using Design to Push the Boundaries of Mobility

Local artist finds new ways to help bring people with disabilities into B.C.'s backcountry


Reported by Nikitha Martins

Local artist and designer Toby Schillinger is combining his knowledge of design and working with metal to make equipment for people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor sports.

On Feb. 22, Schillinger spoke to Langara’s fine art and design students on campus about how they can use their artistic abilities in the workforce.

One of Schillinger’s prosthetic sports arms. Submitted photo. 
Turning Adversity Into Opportunity

Schillinger’s company, Toby’s Cycle Works Inc., makes off-road wheelchairs – called “trailriders” – for hiking, and prosthetic arms for mountain biking. These devices allow people with disabilities to get access to the backcountry. The prosthetic arms have attachments that allow them to hold onto bike handles more easily, and the trailriders are sturdy on uneven ground, and can be pulled or pushed from both ends by hiking companions.

“A friend came to me almost 30 years ago, had a car accident, lost his arm [and] said, ‘I want to ride a bike,’” Schillinger said. “I figured something out over the years and developed [a prosthetic arm]. We now sell them all around the world.”

The Price of Mobility

Schillinger said its difficult for people to access the type of equipment he makes.

“Most government and most insurance agencies won’t give people things for pleasure,” he said.

“They’ll give someone one a wheelchair to do all their tasks, and they consider anything outside that, like riding a bike or going for a walk in the mountains, to be extreme and that [they] don’t really need to have it.”

Schillinger products don’t come cheap – prosthetics and wheelchairs can sell for $5,000 to $8,000 each.

Steve Milum, the president of a medical supplies company for people with disabilities called Chair Stuff Sales, agreed that the pricing of equipment is expensive.

“If we lived in a fully funded world where the government pays for accessible products then it will be accessible to all,” Milum said. “But because of the cost, it’s not.”

Philip Robins, a fine arts instructor at Langara, said he asked Schillinger to speak at the college because he was able to turn his artistic talents into a thriving business.


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