Etac and me

One of Handywoman’s central themes is the importance of tools and made-things in everyday life. I have a different, and much more nuanced, understanding of well-designed tools and objects post-stroke simply because my own physical deficits forced me to notice, and to reflect upon, how such objects addressed (or often failed to address) my body and its needs. The tool that was most crucial to this shift in my understanding has its own chapter in the book – the Etac turner.

As I put it in Handywoman: “my experience of manual transfer, post-stroke, made me think carefully about the complex relationships that existed between my newly disabled body, the bodies of those who assisted me, and the tools and objects with which I supplemented and supported my physical self. Encountering an expertly-designed device which spoke to the precise needs of my body was a deeply humbling experience after which I began to be routinely astonished and impressed by the fit-for-purpose nature of countless ordinary things. The Etac turner helped me not only to sit and stand but also to regard well-designed tools with a newly appreciative insight.”

One of most enjoyable aspects of working on Handywoman was having the opportunity to visit Sweden, and find out more about the design and production of the Etac turner. It was an incredible experience to visit the factory in Anderstorp where the turner was produced, to watch it being made, and to reflect on how the hands and brains behind this tool had made such an enormous difference to my life. Above you see me chatting with Bosse Lindqvist – Etac’s R&D director – about the design evolution of Etac’s assistive technologies and devices . . .

And here I am in Stockholm with Maria Benktzon – award-winning industrial designer (and all-round inspiring woman) – the creative mind behind countless wonderful life-changing tools, often created with the specific needs of women’s bodies in mind.

(Maria’s brödsag, designed in 1974 for RFSU rehab / Etac, which maximises the power and minimises the rotation of hands and wrists with limited function)

best of all – I met and spent several happy days with Kristin Törnqvist – Etac’s dynamic transfer product manager, occupational therapist, talented baker, and (like me) someone who is very fond of sheep and wool.

Then I came home and wrote about the history of Etac, within the context of Sweden’s forward-thinking conceptualisation as a national public sphere with accessibility at its heart. I think that the message of this chapter – that what’s commonly regarded as specialist design should rather be thought of as design for all – is one of the most important things I have to say in Handywoman.

The turner – as a tool, as an affective object – is something that means an awful lot to me, and a few weeks ago I was really happy to see it again when I was visited by Andrew King and Jon Nock from Etac. Jon took some photos of Andrew and me demonstrating the turner in use . .

and a video too

And then we made another wee film, in which I enthused about the turner (it honestly doesn’t take much to get me to sing the praises of this wonderful device!)

In 2010 I was in a brain injury unit, experiencing at first-hand the profound difference that good design can make to a newly-disabled body. From the moment when I first stood with the turner, my connections with Etac have always been enlightening, thought-provoking, reconfirming. It has been a complete pleasure to meet the innovative, creative and committed people who make this company what it is, and I’ve also had the enormously rewarding experience of learning so much more about the tool that helped me, and celebrating it in Handywoman.

Thank you for everything, Etac.