AdaptAbility is a non-profit organization that builds, donates and rents adapted bikes to kids and adults with disabilities unable to use standard bikes. It was founded three years ago by neighbor Sandra Alfonzo.
Sandra was born in Brooklyn but at the age of three or four her family moved to Puerto Rico, came back to the States when she was 21, and started working at a bicycle store. Sandra fell in love with bikes after hearing a story about a guy that lost weight by cycling and how cycling helped him stay healthy. Later in 2014, she opened her own bicycle store called Behind Bars in Brooklyn, now located at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
“We [Behind Bars in Brooklyn] are stepping away from regular bicycles and have decided to do this because it's a need out there for more than anything for children to have mobility or to improve mobility. And the truth is that nobody is doing anything about it,” Alfonzo said. AdaptAbility and Behind Bars in Brooklyn now collaborate to help bring bikes to kids and adults with special needs.
Alfonzo founded AdaptAbility in 2017 after witnessing a child in a wheelchair watching another child being trained to ride a bike.
“When I saw the face of the child in the wheelchair, he was like he wanted to come out of the wheelchair and just do the same thing that the kid would do,” said Sandra. “And the prices of these bicycles are ridiculous and families can't afford them. Some of the states allow health insurance to pay for these adaptive bicycles as therapeutic instruments, but what it's doing is making these bicycles even more expensive. So families that can't use insurance to pay for them can never afford these bikes. So this is why we have created what we call We Adapt. It’s an adapter that can be put on any bicycle that you have and converts it to an adapted bicycle.”
The new adapter (adaptive pedals for any bicycle) took about a year to complete and will be complete by mid-June 2021. Sandra Alfonzo said it took about a year to create it because everything was from scratch - the design, materials, everything.
Families can apply for the adaptive bicycles through the AdaptAbility website and the AdaptAbility team goes and meets the family. The group takes down the specific needs of each child or adult and adapts a bike based on that.
Having a bicycle can be life-changing.
Allegra, 22, is a non-verbal and non-ambulatory young woman, which means she has had a very limited ability to be independent in her movements. Her parents are happy with the change they have seen since she’s had her adapted bicycle.
“Allegra’s bicycle allows my husband and me the joy of seeing Allegra have fun doing an activity that abled people enjoy,” Allegra’s mother wrote in an email to Bklyner. Since she’s had her bicycle, Allegra has gotten so much stronger. She pushes the pedals a little bit more on her own and is rightfully very proud of herself. She has been healthier too, which my husband and I believe is the result of more physical activity.”
Allegra received her bicycle in 2019 and it was delivered by the whole AdaptAbility team dressed as the cast from the movie Wonder Woman. “When AdaptAbility delivers a bicycle, it is a big event designed to be a day the recipient and their family will never forget,” Allegra’s mother wrote. “They came along with 2 fire trucks and an F.D.N.Y. rescue truck that responded to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Sandra Alfonzo, the founder of AdaptAbility, made this all happen. It was truly an extraordinary day we will never forget!”
AdaptAbility used to make bicycles for every child that applied for one and deliver it to their family, but in 2019 started renting bicycles for a couple of weeks free of charge.
One of the biggest challenges AdaptAbility faces is getting funds to create adaptive bicycles for people with disabilities.
“Everything that we do is donations and grants. In 2020, all our grants were denied because of COVID. So it's been very hard trying to, you know, get grants and get donations because the economy is not as good,” Sandra said.