Helping The Disabled, 'I Get To Be Santa All Year'
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Being disabled does not have to be a disadvantage. That's the old saying, anyway, and some people in Cincinnati want to live up to it. Their group is called May We Help. Handymen, technicians and engineers volunteer to make devices that help people with disabilities do things that others take for granted. Cheri Lawson of member station WNKU introduces us to one of the members.
CHERI LAWSON, BYLINE: Bill Sand loves to spend time in his basement. He calls it his man cave, but there's no big screen TV, sound system or beer cooler here.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)
LAWSON: Just power tools and whatever else he needs to build things.
BILL SAND: So, these will go through the planer a few more times.
LAWSON: This 66-year-old is like a lot of guys who tinker. But here's where Bill's a bit different: He designs and builds devices for people with disabilities, and he does it for free.
SAND: These are gifts that are special, that are life-changing.
LAWSON: Here in his home workshop, Bill has made a custom scooter for a little girl who can't walk and cello stands for sisters, even though they don't have arms. Twelve-year-old Inga and 10-year-old Elena Petry of Pennsylvania play with their feet.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LAWSON: Their mom, Jennifer, says the girls used to prop their instruments on pillows on the floor, but that didn't really work out.
JENNIFER PETRY: We needed something to keep the cellos steady so that they would not wobble, so that they would not wander across the floor while they played.
LAWSON: Inga uses her toes for everything, from eating to texting. She says it was difficult to play the cello when it wasn't stable.
INGA PETRY: When my mom told me that we were going to get something so that my cello wouldn't wobble, because it was on a pillow, I was really happy, because I'd be able to play it better.
LAWSON: The Petrys are just one of the families Bill has helped pursue their dreams. He's made several one-of-a-kind devices for nine-year-old Ireland Reed. She has a rare genetic condition called Miller's Syndrome. She has underdeveloped eyelids. She's missing fingers and toes, as well as some bones in her legs. She needs a special walker just to stand. Bill has become a regular visitor to Ireland's home in suburban Cincinnati.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
SAND: Hello, Amy.
AMY REED: Hello. How are you?
REED: Ireland, it's Bill.
LAWSON: Ireland is excited to see Bill, and she rolls over to him on the scooter he made for her. The family calls it her shamrock express. It's given her mobility she'd never had before. Ireland's mom Amy calls Bill a godsend.
REED: He just comes and he looks at her, and then he looks at the walker. And then he goes back to his shop and reappears and he's got a piece together. And it's like how do you know? Bill, how do you know what we need when we don't even know what we need?
LAWSON: During this visit, Amy says Ireland is having trouble writing with her partially formed hand. Bill crouches so he can watch carefully as the child tries to hold a pencil. He puts his hand gently around hers, thinking about what he can do to help.
SAND: Ireland, I just want your hand. You just put your hand like this.
LAWSON: He brainstorms with Amy about what he might come up with, but says even a simple solution might take five or six tries.
SAND: See, I'm thinking of something that'll glide real easy, that her hand is actually sitting on, kind of like a mouse.
REED: We can't thank him enough. It's - I can't find the words to really tell you how it's helped us and helped Ireland.
LAWSON: Bill Sand has done dozens of projects for families like the Reeds and Petrys.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LAWSON: Jennifer Petry says the mahogany cello stands Bill crafted for her kids are not only practical, but beautiful.
PETRY: Just so beautiful. And I thought these are cello stands that my girls can get on stage with and not be ashamed.
SAND: I get to be Santa all year round. You know, every time I do a project, it's like Christmas all over.
LAWSON: The group May We Help is hoping to expand beyond its roots in the Midwest. They're talking about setting up a chapter in Florida, and hope it would be the start to help millions of children and adults to pursue their passions, despite their disabilities. For NPR News, I'm Cheri Lawson, in Cincinnati. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.