With developmental delay, cerebral palsy and vision impairment, as well as some changes to her mouth structure following an accident, Aviva was coughing when she used most cups. She was not adequately swallowing the liquid and there was a danger that she would choke.
Her therapist experimented at length to find a cup from which Aviva could drink safely. The problem was when she got down to the liquid in the bottom of the cup – whereas most people just tip the cup up and tilt their head back so that the opposite side of the cup doesn’t hit their nose, Aviva was not able to do this and started coughing.
Her therapist tried several options, including adding several types of handles to a flexible cup that Aviva had tried previously, and a Provale Cup, which has a lid insert that delivers a set amount of liquid each time the cup is tipped. None of these worked well for Aviva – the Provale was too cumbersome for her, and the flexible cup slipped out of the handles when squeezed.
Eventually the therapist settled on a Doidy cup, an angled plastic cup that is intended for teaching babies how to drink from a rim rather than a spout. The effect of the angle is to create a lower rim on the opposite side, which solves the problem that occurs when the cup is tipped.
However, there was still another problem – the Doidy cup’s handles are designed for baby fingers, not those of a nineteen-year old, and Aviva simply couldn’t get her hands around them. Her therapist ‘s colleague suggested that TAD may be able to help.
Enter TAD volunteer and long-time solver of the insolvable, Barry Lees. Barry’s task was to create new handles that were 3cm away from the cup rather than the current 1cm, and 2cm in diameter.
“The existing handles were moulded as part of the cup,” Barry said. “It was made of a thin, greasy plastic that I knew wouldn’t glue well, so gluing on new handles wasn’t a good option.”
“I decided that the best approach was to make a new holder for the cup, with the handles on the holder. But this needed to be well clear of the area where she would be putting her mouth, and also it needed to fit fairly closely so it didn’t wobble or rattle while she was trying to drink, but still be easy to get in and out of the holder for cleaning.”
After checking that it wouldn’t be too difficult to obtain another cup if this one didn’t survive his experiments, Barry took a deep breath and cut off the handles. “I tried several holders made out of different materials that didn’t work,” he said. “The first one was made from stainless steel wire, but I found I couldn’t weld it successfully, and then I tried stainless steel sheet, but that didn’t look very nice.”
After making a cardboard template, Barry eventually made a successful holder from pieces of white PVC that he had in his workshop, which he heated and moulded to shape. The handles are solid acrylic tube which he cut to shape on his lathe and polished so they are smooth.
This was sent for Aviva to try. It worked very well for several weeks, but then the PVC broke at one of the 90° bends. “First I got a bit upset, and then I made yet another holder, this time out of thicker plastic,” Barry said. “But it looked awful!”
Barry’s final design, which survives to this day, went back to stainless steel plate but still uses the acrylic handles. “I followed the same design as the PVC one, and I made tiny rivets and took a lot of care to make everything smooth and as attractive as possible,” he said.
The final result is a testament to Barry’s ingenuity, patience and persistence, and a great example of the kind of commitment that TAD’s volunteers have to getting exactly the right outcome for our clients – and one that is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.
“Just letting you know that the cup is going very well with Aviva,” her therapist wrote. “She is using it very easily with nil coughing. Please pass on my sincere thanks to Barry Lees who has done such an exceptional job modifying it!”