Cardboard carpentry helps physical therapists think outside the box

Elizabeth Morrow

A day long workshop in cardboard carpentry was held as part of the Albert Schweitzer Institute’s conference “A World of Possibilities: Empowering People with Disabilities” on April 8.

Occupational therapy professor, Signian McGeary, physical therapy professor Maureen Helgren and director of the Albert Schweitzer institute, David Ives collaborated to develop this conference, in order to teach therapists and caregivers an inexpensive way to provide strong, adaptable equipment for people with disabilities.

“We would love to bring cardboard carpentry to people and children around the world,” Ives said.

McGeary, Helgren and Ives were assisted by Leaf Miller, an occupational therapist and Liz Dama, who holds a master’s degree in fine arts and is from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to help present on the topic. Miller and Dama manage Progressive Industries, a business designed to provide adaptive equipment for infants and children.

CaraMarie DeYoung, a graduate occupational therapy student, was in attendance to provide assistance in the construction of the cardboard. DeYoung did her capstone research project on the area of cardboard carpentry and presented on the topic during her recent trip to Barbados with other physical and occupational therapy students in conjunction with the Albert Schweitzer Institute.

Together, the six experts introduced the idea of cardboard carpentry to their large audience of therapists, professors and caregivers.

“This is a really exciting thing for me,” Tiffany Barberi, an occupational therapist who works in homecare, said. “I already know of three children who need this type of adaptive equipment next week.”

“Right now, I work in an industry that relies on expensive vendors,” physical therapist Laurel Williamson, said. “I would like to get back into the nature of being creative.”

“Cardboard carpentry can really allow for collaboration and allow the community to get involved,” McGeary said.

All attendees received handouts with templates for building an adapted chair for a child as well as the book “Creative Constructions”, written by Molly Campbell and Alex Trusdell, also experts in the area of cardboard carpentry.

“One of the benefits of cardboard carpentry is that you get the chance to modify and change the equipment,” QU physical therapy professor, Richard Albro, said.

Each participant was given the opportunity to make a box out of cardboard.

“It is not as easy as it looks,” occupational therapist, Paige Labelle, said, after building her box. “However, it does provide a more hands-on approach to rehabilitation and care.”

“It is a really good idea. I never even thought of using these products,” occupational therapist Eden Diamond, said.

Some of the initial hesitations about the idea of using cardboard included the time involved to build as well as the durability and strength of the product.

Although time consuming, an entire adapted chair may cost up to $500 including labor, while the same type of chair may cost thousands of dollars from a commercial vendor.

Miller and Dama have already utilized cardboard carpentry for some children, with products lasting several years. Even after this time, the cardboard products did not fall apart; rather, the children simply grew out of them.

Workshop participants tested the strength of the boxes by standing on top of them for a long period of time without causing any damage to their creation.

Although there is great hesitation by many therapy professionals to use cardboard, those in attendance were receptive to the idea and plan on fulfilling Ives’s hopes of bringing cardboard carpentry throughout the United States and to the world.