Bonnie and Marc Work Together to Design a Wheelchair Lap Tray

April 5, 2021

Marc stands next to Bonnie, who is using her wheelchair lap tray to hold a mug.
Bonnie lives in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba with her husband and cat. She’s very active and has a small business doing web design.

“We’re hoping to get more into that, which is part of the reason why the tray for the wheelchair became so important,” she explains.

Bonnie has Larsen Syndrome (new window), a disorder affecting the development of bones in the body. With her major joints dislocated, she has used a wheelchair all her life and uses a ventilator.

When she got a new wheelchair last summer to helps deal with the pain, there were no suitable commercially available lap trays for her wheelchair. A tray would make it a lot easier to eat and drink, and it could also hold a laptop.

Through a clinic, she had heard about Makers Making Change (new window). She put in a request for a lap tray with 12″x 18″ area, a cup holder, and edging to prevent things from falling off.

Marc, a retired sales professional who lives about an hour and a half away, responded to her request on the Makers Making Change forum (new window).

“I thought no problem, I’ll bang it out in a weekend,” he says of his first thoughts on the project.

Initially, he designed a prototype using hardboard, working with another maker, Julia, to research and come up with a design. However, after trying out the prototype, Bonnie found that she needed the tray to be see-through, as she wanted to use it while moving around.

“I requested it be clear so I could still move around my house with the tray on, which affords me the ability to pick up a coffee on my tray, have it with me, and still be able to go room to room in my house,” she explains. “So I could see where the doorways are, where my cat is, so I don’t run over anything or run into anything while the tray is on.”

They went back to the drawing board. Because of COVID restrictions, much of their communication was through email, with Marc and Bonnie and her health care aides communicating back and forth, bouncing ideas and measurements off of each other.

“He was really easy to work with, easy to communicate with,” Bonnie says of Marc. “We were able to be patient, think of different ways of communicating and developing ideas together while not being together.”

They decided on using acrylic to make a see-through tray. With the tray needing to be used while Bonnie is in motion and while she is in her vehicle, they settled on securing the tray using buckle clips.

Another consideration was making sure the tray doesn’t damage the cushions and armrests, which are quite expensive to replace, and that the attachments — the edging and cupholder — can be easily removed in case they need to be replaced.

When it came time to actually make the tray, it was a family affair for Marc, with his son helping with laser cutting the acrylic, and his wife made a vinyl decal of a dolphin — Bonnie’s favourite animal — on the tray.

the vinyl decal with the dolphin

After working with Bonnie over the winter on the tray, he delivered it to her on March 10th.

“The tray is amazing,” Bonnie shares. “It’s gonna be so much more handier, I used to have to eat all my meals on top of a pillow on my lap, which was a little bit tedious.

“Also the tray is going to be used when I’m in my vehicle, riding in the back. Before my tray, we would have to just stop and pull over if I needed a drink or I wanted to eat something. This way, we don’t have to.”

Marc is applying the final touches to the tray. During their visit, they found that the acrylic wasn’t stiff enough to support a laptop, so he designed swing down legs into the edging that will rest on the footrest and support the tray.

“[Marc wants] to continue to make it the best possible thing it can be. I really appreciate that because I sense he knows quite honestly how often this has been needed in my day to day life, and how much it will be used,” Bonnie says.

Bonnie using her wheelchair lap tray.

While Bonnie loves her lap tray and describes her experience with Makers Making Change as “wonderful,” it’s been a great experience for Marc too.

“It’s been a real interesting learning experience for me, as well,” he shares.

He first got involved in the maker community by making ear savers (new window) for a nurse friend at the beginning of the pandemic, eventually joining a group in Winnipeg making them. There, he learned about Makers Making Change and has been a steady presence since, looking for projects he can help with.

“My education was in computer science, so I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer and a coder, and problem solving — ‘Ok, we’ve got a problem, we’re going to figure out how to solve it’ — is a lot of fun. I really, really enjoy it, and this is kind of a way to do that, but also give back to folks who need a hand.”


This story originally appeared on the Makers Making Change website (new window).