Adaptive Pottery

After a decade of producing what I call functional pottery (cups, bowls and plates for every-day use), I recently discovered that my pieces were not “functional” for everybody. I learned that for individuals with hand dexterity issues and movement disorders, plates need “backstops,” bowls need handles and spouts, and cups work better if they are square and indented instead of round and smooth.

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My latest adaptive pottery was featured in my first solo show at the University of California, Davis Craft Center.  UC Davis Dateline Magazine tells the story: https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/craft-center-gallery-show-features-ceramics-made-accessible  See News for details about the exhibit.

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Paul Knott, a neighbor with quadriplegia, started me on the journey toward creating more accessible ceramics.  Here’s how he explains the concept of “access” in relation to tableware:

A great deal of attention is devoted to providing mobility access for persons with disabilities, but far less attention is given to providing assistive utensils for persons who have disabilities that impair the use of their hands. Persons with disabilities are also often faced with the predicament where they must choose assistive devices that are not aesthetically satisfying. This is especially true of assistive tableware. A well-prepared meal is just not as satisfying if it is served on plastic plates and bowls and a fine wine served in a sippy cup is just wrong. Jill’s tableware is not only specifically designed to work with my limited dexterity, but her utensils are a pleasing addition to any table. I especially like the wonderful range of blue hues in her cobalt glaze.

All of the pieces pictured below were co-designed with  individuals with manual dexterity challenges (special thanks to Paul Knott, Mike Hugill and Jeff Pector who test-drove each piece and provided invaluable feedback).  All are works in progress, and I invite comments and suggestions through the “Contact Me” form.  Please leave your email address if you would like to continue the conversation and receive updates on how the work evolves from here. Special thanks to Paul Knott for providing the vocabulary to start this project.  He is the one who taught me the terms “adaptive pottery” and “dexterity access tableware.”

In this short clip, Jeff Pector, who has Essential Tremor, demonstrates how the “backstop” plate we designed together makes a difference in the dining experience for him.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvyBugtxrn4&w=420&h=315]

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This dinner plate, co-designed with Jeff Pector, aids in loading food onto onto the utensil by providing a “backstop” in the raised rim.  The walls are low enough, however, that the plate stacks well and fits in the dishwasher rack, making it a practical choice for family dishware.

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Two-handled soup/cereal bowl provides stable grip and enables spooning or drinking.

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These mugs offer easy one- or two-handed access for maximum stability.  Indents and stamps on four sides prevent slippage when steadied with a second hand, and a thumb rest atop the wide handle helps with a one-handed grip.  The slightly flared rim allows the cup to be picked up from the top, which is helpful for those who have more hand strength in a pronated position.  My co-designer, Mike Hugill, says there are actually five different ways to pick up this cup.

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Mike Hugill drew on his engineering acumen to help me design the above-pictured mugs so that they worked with his Essential Tremor.  Here’s his account of our collaboration:

I first became aware of Jill’s mug when it was passed around my Essential Tremor support group.  In addition to seeing a most attractive mug, I instantly saw how a few little design tweaks could be incorporated to make it a totally practical product for those with tremor issues. Jill invited my wife and me to visit her shop to see how they are made and at the same time, review and make suggestions.  Having dealt with engineering designs for many years, it was refreshing that Jill was so open to recommendations. As we sat in her lab, she took out her notebook and documented, step by step, the suggestions that could be practically made.  We looked at the weight: make it heavy and robust enough with a large base to provide stability;   handling/carrying:  increase the lip and indents on the mug to pick up and access more easily and to put in the Jill  “thumb swirl” at the top of the handle  for ease of drinking and balance.  What started to be a venture into making drink ware for those with tremor issues, rapidly turned into a terrific vessel for coffee, tea or soup . . . for anyone.

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These tumblers have been stamped and squared for easy grasp, and are textured with throwing lines to reduce slippage.  Some individuals with arthritis have told me that cups like this without handles are actually more comfortable to use than mugs.

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Jeff Pector came up with the idea for these spouted bowls.  The last third or so of a portion of soup or cereal can easily elude the utensil of someone with Essential Tremor; hence the spout to provide a no-spill drinking option.

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Another walled plate, also co-designed with Jeff Pector, with a wider, stamped rim and made from red clay with aqua-blue glaze.

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Small bowls for soup, rice or ice cream with lug handles.  The user can cradle the bowl with a knuckle under each handle for added stability.

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Pitcher has wide, easy-grip handle with thumb rest and ribbed walls for no-slip steadying with second hand.

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Jeff Pector, the instigator behind this particular plate design, felt I should be able to make the plate walls high enough to act as a backstop to errant peas, but low enough that the plate would fit in the lower rack in the dishwasher.  All of my early prototypes met either the first criterion or the second, but never both, and I told him that these two requests were impossibly contradictory.  He held his ground. I’m glad he did.

Below, Jeff Pector explains the impacts of his Essential Tremor on daily tasks like eating, and how a few simple design tweaks can make dishware more user-friendly.

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If I’m not trying to do anything with them, my hands look pretty normal.  If you saw me driving a car, carrying luggage, or shoveling dirt, you wouldn’t think I have a disability.  If you watched me try to write or feed myself, you’d know better. I have a neurological disorder called Essential Tremor* that makes my hands very shaky, but only when I try to do something with them; a fine-motor-skill something, such as transferring food from plate to mouth.  For me, coaxing kernels of corn into my spoon, chasing them around the plate, is normally a losing battle.  Those kernels want to fly off my dish onto the table or floor. Enter Jill, and her artistic yet functional design perspective.  Jill asked what would help and then listened.  Here you see the beautiful and quite effective result.  The low, graceful, concave-curved walls around the rim of Jill’s plates form a backstop against which I can herd my corn, mixed vegetables, and stew, scooping it into my utensil and eventually my mouth. 

*Essential Tremor (ET) is a neurological condition that causes a rhythmic trembling, especially of the hands. ET is often confused with Parkinson’s disease although it’s eight times more common, affecting an estimated 10 million Americans and millions more worldwide. (Excerpted from http://www.essentialtremor.org/about-et/.)

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The cups below are made with yellow and red stoneware clays glazed with more opaque glazes: mottled blue, Albany slip and goldenrod shino.

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