People with special needs face unique challenges that impact the quality of their everyday lives. For parents of special needs children, there is no greater hope than ensuring their child experiences life to the fullest despite having a disability that may inhibit their independence.
Addressing one such issue, on July 13 Nike unveiled a line of shoes designed specifically to help people with special needs who often face difficulties when buying and putting on shoes. Nike was inspired to create the Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease basketball sneaker, the first of its kind, after receiving a letter from Matthew Walzer, a Florida teen with cerebral palsy.
Walzer, now a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, asked for a more accessible line of footwear that would ensure his independence when he went to college and provide support to others like him.
In the 2012 letter, he wrote, “At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating, and at times, embarrassing . . . My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day.”
After receiving the letter, Nike designer Tobie Hatfield and his team worked with Walzer for three years to design and test prototypes. They finally created the groundbreaking Flyease technology comprising an “easy-entry footwear system.” Instead of laces, which tend to be difficult to tie for people with mobility disorders, the sneaker uses a wraparound zipper system that makes it easier for the wearer to slide their foot in and out of the shoe.
The company started selling limited quantities of the basketball sneaker on their website on July 16. In the future, Walzer dreams of helping Nike to create accessible shoes that “could generate more independence for all abilities.”