After years of development beginning in 2012, Nike is finally releasing its first completely hands-free sneaker, with the idea coming from Matthew Walzer, a man with cerebral palsy. The then-teenager wrote to Nike, expressing his fears of heading off to college without being able to tie his shoes on his own, due to his limited hand-flexibility. This spurred Nike to create a line of sneakers with accessibility in mind, with Walzer’s collaboration. Nike’s latest version of the shoe, the Nike Go Flyease, was released to select Nike members on Monday, Feb. 15 before a widespread release. This is a shoe you can quite literally step in and out of, utilizing what is essentially a hinge that opens to slide your foot in, and closes as you step down into it. The Nike Go Flyease can also be removed hands-free, making it a sneaker truly meant for all athletes.
Unfortunately, some people have been quick to call the shoe’s design “lazy,” (or even suggest that it’s only meant for ease in the airport security line) without knowing its intended purpose. Criticisms such as these are extremely harmful, as they dismiss the struggles of people with disabilities in a world that is largely inaccessible. While something as simple as tying your shoes may seem like a basic task
that anyone can do, those with limited mobility (such as Matthew Walzer himself), may find it daunting or even impossible. Thus, mocking the Nike Go Flyease suppresses a vital industry. If you widen your mindset, and include the experiences of people different than you, these products won’t seem “ridiculous” or “unnecessary” in the slightest.
But it’s not just this specific shoe people have attacked without thinking about the larger impact of their words. Often products featured in infomercials have become the laughingstock of the internet, compiled into lists of “10 useless things nobody could ever possibly need.” But that isn’t an accurate portrayal at all.
Possibly the best example of this is the banana slicer. It sounds a little silly to your average non-disabled person to have a specific plastic gadget meant for slicing bananas when a knife works just fine. In fact, if you look at the Amazon reviews for one banana slicer in particular, you’ll find thousands of sarcastic comments harping on the product. The jokes about no longer needing to use a laser or not having to toss bananas at the ceiling fan anymore are well thought out, but they enable the erasure of the entire community of people with disabilities. If you physically cannot hold a knife in one hand while holding a banana steady with the other, then the banana slicer may be the one product that allows you some level of independence in the kitchen.
And that’s the biggest piece to all of this. It’s exclusive to assume that people with disabilities cannot do anything on their own, or that they have a caregiver at their beck and call constantly. If you’ve never been in such a position before, think about how dehumanizing it would be to have to wait for someone else to slice a banana for you. Additionally, attendant care is extraordinarily expensive, costing a median of $45,000 annually in 2015 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Even with insurance, these costs are still high, and independence is priceless. However, in the interest of being entirely transparent, each pair of shoes in Nike’s Flyease line ranges from about $120 to $220. This is not reasonably accessible for all the people that need them. Creating the shoe is a step in the right direction, and they’re cheaper than in-home care, but making them more affordable would help a wider range of people by far.
Not all of the products that are so helpful to people with disabilities were specifically designed with such a target audience in mind. This includes the banana slicer, and even the infamous Snuggie, which many people assume was invented for wheelchair users. And it’s not that only people with disabilities are allowed to utilize these products. But to explicitly call a product “useless” simply because you don’t personally need it is detrimental to an important industry. Nike’s Go Flyease and other products like it have the capacity to seriously improve peoples’ lives—we shouldn’t treat them as absurd jokes.