One of Handywoman’s central themes is the importance of tools and made-things in everyday life. I have a different, and much more nuanced, understanding of well-designed tools and objects post-stroke simply because my own physical deficits forced me to notice, and to reflect upon, how such objects addressed (or often failed to address) my body and its needs. The tool that was most crucial to this shift in my understanding has its own chapter in the book – the Etac turner.

As I put it in Handywoman: “my experience of manual transfer, post-stroke, made me think carefully about the complex relationships that existed between my newly disabled body, the bodies of those who assisted me, and the tools and objects with which I supplemented and supported my physical self. Encountering an expertly-designed device which spoke to the precise needs of my body was a deeply humbling experience after which I began to be routinely astonished and impressed by the fit-for-purpose nature of countless ordinary things. The Etac turner helped me not only to sit and stand but also to regard well-designed tools with a newly appreciative insight.”

One of most enjoyable aspects of working on Handywoman was having the opportunity to visit Sweden, and find out more about the design and production of the Etac turner. It was an incredible experience to visit the factory in Anderstorp where the turner was produced, to watch it being made, and to reflect on how the hands and brains behind this tool had made such an enormous difference to my life. Above you see me chatting with Bosse Lindqvist – Etac’s R&D director – about the design evolution of Etac’s assistive technologies and devices . . .

And here I am in Stockholm with Maria Benktzon – award-winning industrial designer (and all-round inspiring woman) – the creative mind behind countless wonderful life-changing tools, often created with the specific needs of women’s bodies in mind.

(Maria’s brödsag, designed in 1974 for RFSU rehab / Etac, which maximises the power and minimises the rotation of hands and wrists with limited function)

best of all – I met and spent several happy days with Kristin Törnqvist – Etac’s dynamic transfer product manager, occupational therapist, talented baker, and (like me) someone who is very fond of sheep and wool.

Then I came home and wrote about the history of Etac, within the context of Sweden’s forward-thinking conceptualisation as a national public sphere with accessibility at its heart. I think that the message of this chapter – that what’s commonly regarded as specialist design should rather be thought of as design for all – is one of the most important things I have to say in Handywoman.

The turner – as a tool, as an affective object – is something that means an awful lot to me, and a few weeks ago I was really happy to see it again when I was visited by Andrew King and Jon Nock from Etac. Jon took some photos of Andrew and me demonstrating the turner in use . .

and a video too

And then we made another wee film, in which I enthused about the turner (it honestly doesn’t take much to get me to sing the praises of this wonderful device!)

In 2010 I was in a brain injury unit, experiencing at first-hand the profound difference that good design can make to a newly-disabled body. From the moment when I first stood with the turner, my connections with Etac have always been enlightening, thought-provoking, reconfirming. It has been a complete pleasure to meet the innovative, creative and committed people who make this company what it is, and I’ve also had the enormously rewarding experience of learning so much more about the tool that helped me, and celebrating it in Handywoman.

Thank you for everything, Etac.

36 thoughts on “Etac and me

  1. Kate,
    I had Handywoman on my nightstand for many months before trepidatiously starting it. Thought it might be difficult to read right before bed. Instead, I had to make myself put it down and turn out the light each night. You write so beautifully, without using a single extra word. Something I strive for and seldom achieve. And you’re so keenly observant about your own body & its interactions with objects & places. So far, my favorite chapter is the one about how the Swedish company Etac came to design the turner that let you safely transfer from sitting to standing for the first time after your stroke.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an OT and with a father who was Swedish I understand this on so many levels , I was particularly interested on the impact the equipment had on you as a user.
    My parents were great ‘creators’ and I too was immensely proud of their creations,my friends weren’t always that impressed either so that made me smile.
    I am new to colour work ,but find your patterns very methodical and easy to follow.
    Thank you and keep up the good work at kdd!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so happy to have come across this info today! I am a long time knitting fan of your design and yarns but was not aware of your stroke journey until seeing this today. My son is studying medicine and works exclusively with stroke victims. I will pass along the book to him when I am through. The hardest part of his job is transferring his patients. Hopefully this info can encourage his office to invest in a turner. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are an absolutely beautiful soul; inside and out!! I teared up reading this and I am so thankful you have the courage to share your inspiring story and your progress. Please know it means a lot. Sending you love and best wishes from Canada!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Kate for being so forceful and still down to earth in your incredible book.
    It not only gives ideas to cope with some physical aspects after health problems, but courage to go on. If one thing does not work try something else, but keep going.
    Looking forward to more tips and tricks, like how to find and put on a wetsuit…
    But most of all : keep on producing your marvellous knitting patterns in bright natural colours, because for me and I think for many others, knitting is a way of feeling completely whole and being able to do what everyone does, without standing out because of a wonky leg or foot.
    Your book lies handy, so that I can pick it up and re-read a couple of pages whenever I feel the need.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Having used this with a friend earlier this year, it is an amazing device. We were given it to use by the local community nurse. I remember my friend’s wife and I trying out ourselves in her bedroom before we used it with him- so we got the hang of it. Sadly his illness meant we only got to use it once or twice with him before he lost his upper body strength, and he could no longer pull himself up. I wish we’d been given it earlier, it would have made a difference for about week prior, and made his life easier, particularly in terms of managing his toilet etc., and giving him more dignity in how we managed that.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experience and insight in Handywoman. I am fortunate in that I have always been in good health, nevertheless, there was a great deal in the book that I recognised. I had a somewhat similar handmade childhood, with knitting as constant underlying theme which later became much more dominant. The strength of the book for me, though, is your analytical approach to every experience. It was fascinating to read about your analysis of your own physical capacity and trialling of different ways of developing it. As a study of learning (or re-learning), it offers great insights. You very generously give suggestions on which parts of the book might interest different people. I ignored those and greedily read the whole book. There were some parts (such as the joy of Fairisle knitting) where I cheered along, while others (inclusive design) explored ideas that I had never thought of. And I’m grateful for all of it. Thank you for a fascinating read and a lovely object.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I finished reading the final chapters of Handywoman this morning in bed, including your trip to Sweden to meet the people behind this turner. How lovely to come downstairs and find this post from you! The empowering impact this tool had on you is evident from the joy shining on your face when you talk about it.

    Kate, thank you so much for Handywoman. Six years ago, I suffered sudden physical disability (nerve damage, not brain injury) at 34. It ultimately ended my academic career, and has made me think deeply about my quality of life and how best to facilitate and prioritise that. Reading about someone so very much like me, grappling with many of the same emotional and mental challenges, has moved me immensely in ways I cannot adequately verbalise yet. That you hold yourself up as neither tragic nor “inspirational” makes your story so much more immediate and relatable to me. I can feel possibilities and ideas beginning to nudge my subconscious and I can’t wait to see where they take me. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Kate! Thank you for introducing us to this wonderful device! My father has mobility issues and we have been using a pivot device that is similar to this but without the stand and handles. What a difference having the handles makes! My mother, who is primary caretaker for my father, is having back issues from having to bend and hold him up when transferring him from his wheel chair. I think the Etac is what she needs to help my father without hurting her back any further. Thank you again for sharing what you learned from having a stroke and your recovery.

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  10. This is the 50th Anniversary in the US of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as a result there have been fascinating stories about the struggles and the results, especially universal design. People who use curb cuts for their baby strollers or bikes have no idea how they came to be. Your story about the ETAC and the design brains there seem to support those ideas of universal design being good for everyone. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. How great to hear you speak and to listen to your lovely accent (accent to me here in the western U.S., though, of course, not to your local community!). Interesting and useful equipment.
    Also, want to let you know how much I’m enjoying your book. Your writing is wonderful, your story,
    so interesting and your determination, inspiring.
    I so appreciate your talents and sharing them with others.

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  12. A friend recently retired from a retirement community, where she ran the salon. She mentioned the difficulty of transferring people from wheelchairs to the salon chair and back. Seems like this might be good in that setting too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Kate, love the fact you are so whip smart and that you use your power and passion for good! Sharing the way the Etac changed things for you is clearly so helpful for others. The same can be said for your book as a whole. Such clear, generous, analytical reflections. Many of your post stroke experiences resonated strongly as someone having to deal with other life changing health matters. Thank you!

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  14. Thank goodness there are people who do this kind of work. My son relies upon leg and foot braces since a spinal injury and they make the difference between walking and wheel chair. We don’t sing the praises of these people enough.

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    1. Jane, I read your comment and can’t help but ask if you have heard of the Alinker? It is a new mobility device and though I know nothing about your situation or that of your son (sorry!) I have to mention it. I have no affiliation with the company other than that I’ve met the founder and some people who use the Alinker and have been so impressed. It’s at thealinker.com. Very best to you and your son.

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  15. I have a cousin who has Essential Tremors and difficulty moving at times. Will send this on to him. Thank you for all the work you have done for yourself and others. Thanks to Tom also :)

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  16. Kate, I’m so glad we’re talking about your book! I’m very sorry you had a stroke but I do enjoy reading a well-written book. I have a sister and a friend who have had strokes in the last two years. They are both still hard at work in the never-ending recovery. I don’t live near either one so your story has helped me to understand their situations so much better. My friend’s aunt is one of my best friends so I have given her your book to read. If have to say it, Kudos to Tom for his love and loyality!

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  17. We had to use a device like this after Dad developed Vascular Dementia and was unable to walk. I’m not sure if it was an Etac but it was very similar and without Dad couldn’t have stayed at home for as long as he did.

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  18. Absolutely agree, my brother-in-law has one, he would be stuck in a chair without it most days. With Parkinson’s mobility alters day to day, morning to afternoon. It is wonderful that you were able to visit the factory and the designers. As one designer to another I expect you were speaking the same language but about a different function. Mobility aids are the wonders of engineering, thank you to anyone who took part in thinking them out, prototyping them and getting them out there to help us. And thank you Kate, for being so open and generous with your own experience and sharing it with us.
    You are an inspiration all on your own…

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  19. I love hearing you enthuse about the design of the turner, and how you were enabled in so many more ways than it originally had been designed for.
    I have read Handywoman, and enjoyed it very much. It is well written and extremely engaging, and it has given me so many things to think about.
    There is a bit where you describe friends/acquaintances putting themselves where you were/are, and commenting on their own response to that situation. 30 years ago I taught at a primary school west of Lockerbie. The commonest comment heard from parents and children was – ‘If it had happened only ? minutes later it could have been us.’ This may well be a very human response, but I could not understand that way of thinking. (I hope you don’t mind a bit of personal memory – but it has had a lasting impact on me.)
    Thank you for such a deep and thoughtful book.

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  20. The message of the Etac chapter about good design being design for all comes through the book as a whole. I’ve enjoyed the whole book immensely and it’s sparked off many trains of thought in all sorts of directions. Thank you Kate!

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  21. Wow! Etac is amazing. Wish that this had been available for my beloved parents when they had compromising health/orthopedic difficulties. I am looking forward to reading Handy Woman. Kate you are an inspiration for all of us. Thank you for all. Much love to you…

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  22. I wish we had one avail for my mom while she was in a care home. She passed away in February, but I can see where it would be very useful in a nursing home.

    PS: I love your red shoes, who makes them? :-)

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  23. Where was ETAC 30 years ago when I entered my nursing career. My back would still be intact!! Love this! Empowers the patient while increasing their strength.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Wow this seems to be a great device. I can see how it can be useful in a physician ( ophthalmologist’s ) office. We often have to transfer patients from a wheelchair to the exam chair. This could make the transfer quite easy for patients who can stand but can’t turn easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. As an engineering student, the ETAC turner immediately struck me as a piece of intuitive good design, we learn a lot about design, good and bad, on my course, so I was able to recognise this as being excellent in function and aesthetic design as well. It is even nicer to see you enthusing about it.

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  26. Dear Kate
    I am reading your book and it constantly makes me think
    About how much I take for granted, as a physical able person. All those small and large things I do, that make me WHO I am WHAT I am because of what I CAN. It must be have been so hard to hold on to yourself deep inside. Of course I can’t be proud of a person I don’t know, but in a way, I am proud of you as a living and creative proof of what humane can achieve. Thank you so much for writing that book. It must have been difficult and hard, in more ways than one.
    Dorthe

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  27. All the things you learn about when your body needs help… it’s wonderful to read about Etac and how helpful it has been to you, as well as the other devices you write about:)

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  28. Dear Kate,
    Your book has just arrived and I am eager to dive into it. I look forward to learning more about your journey. Thank you for highlighting your appreciation for the many ways in which the creative development of tools assist the lives of many. The power of imagination, a kind heart, and perseverance are ripples that can help us all.
    Karen

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  29. Thanks, Kate. My husband has a progressive and debilitating muscle disease and this maybe helpful for us. I would never have heard about this if it weren’t for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes look at the creators of that wondrous device. (Swedes make some of the most interesting tools in every arena — we have forestry implements, garden tools, cooking, and baking tools all from Sweden! And I haven’t even started on the furniture….)

    The concept of a device allowing someone to stand again is amazing. I am humbled by such creativity and thoughtful design.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Reading about your experiences with this device, the people that design and make and the positive impact it has had on your life is so emotional. Thanks to you, Kate and to Etac too.

    Liked by 1 person

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