West Michigan

How Accessible Is Your Travel Destination, Really? Now There’s An App For That!

Rain or shine, the West Michigan lakeshore attracts tourists from around the world.

Holland State Park, Grand Haven State Park, and the Grand Haven Lighthouse and Pier rank No. 1 to 3, respectively, according to TripAdvisor.

Not all top attractions – or restaurants, or hotels – would get top ratings from travelers with mobility challenges, however.

Having up-to-date accessibility information on travel destination can make the difference in how fully you’re able to enjoy it when you get there.

That’s why a group of current and former computer science students developed a software application they call “Access Earth.”

The Access Earth app is an easy way for smartphone users with disabilities to preview and review access to public places to benefit others who use wheelchairs, walkers, tricycles, crutches and other assistive devices.

Access Earth was the Global Citizenship Award winner and was the $5,000 third-prize winner overall in the 2014 finals of the Imagine Cup, a worldwide technology design competition for students sponsored by Microsoft. The finals were held in August at Seattle.

“We didn’t just develop this for the competition,” said Matthew McCann, 24, team captain. “As we build our database, we hope Access Earth will become a valuable and reliable source of information for people around the world.”

McCann, a masters-level student at Maynooth University in Kildare, Ireland, envisioned the Access Earth app after a trip to the 2012 Olympic Games in London with KC Grant, the only American on the design team.

McCann has cerebral palsy and uses a rolling walker to steady himself. The hotel he booked was, according to its website, “accessible.” Yet the room doorways were too narrow to accommodate his Rollator. Also, there was no ramp option to avoid a three-step rise from the entrance to the reception desk.

Most accessibility rating systems just don’t provide enough information for someone with mobility challenges to know if a place will be suitable for them, McCann said.

He and fellow students at Maynooth developed Access Earth outside of their coursework to archive reviews. Users can also leave a meaningful rating based on a series of specific yes and no questions based on construction regulations.

Similar apps like Wheelmap and DisabledGo use rating continuums that aren’t specific enough for people who require certain accessibility features, McCann said.

The Access Earth app works on smartphones that use the Windows platform. Look for it in the Windows store. The students are developing mobile apps this fall that will work on iPhone and Android devices. Check iTunes and Marketplace for those apps.

The app can also be downloaded from the developers’ website, www.accessearth.org.

But you don’t need to have the app to start leaving accessibility ratings and reviews for West Michigan attractions like Windmill Island, The Musical Fountain, and Tunnel Park.

Site reviews can be entered at accessearth.org by viewing the site through any Internet browser.

Fact is, Access Earth will become more useful as its database of ratings and reviews grows.

“Participation from a lot of people all over the world is what’s going to help Access Earth make a difference,” said Grant, 23, a Massachusetts resident who’s preparing to start a clinical biological research program winter semester at a Rhode Island college.

Other members of the Access Earth design team are: Donal McClean, 25, now working on a master’s degree at Athlone Institute of Technology in Co. Westmeath, Ireland; and Jack Gallagher, 22, a recent Maynooth graduate now working for IBM in Dublin, Ireland.

So, who’s going to be the first to review Mt. Pisgah and the Tri-Cities Historical Museum?

Landscape quilts are fine art born of pain

Landscape quilts are fine art born of pain  

Ann Loveless - 2013 ArtPrize winner for "Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore"

Ann Loveless - 2013 ArtPrize winner for "Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore"

West Michigan knows the story of Ann Loveless, the extraordinary Frankfort quilter whose panoramic quilt of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore won the 2013 ArtPrize competition.

ArtPrize is the nation’s biggest art competition, drawing 1,800 artists and 1,500 entries to Grand Rapids last fall. Loveless was presented with a $200,000 for winning the show’s popular vote  -- reportedly the most money paid for any quilt in history.

Loveless’s success has launched landscape quilts into the realm of fine art. Until she won ArtPrize, most people thought of quilting as a craft.

An Ann Loveless creation is not your Grandmother’s quilt. You wouldn’t throw one on a bed. These works are displayed like the oil paintings many people mistake them for.

What you don’t know

The part of Loveless’s story that you haven’t heard is how she became a quilter.

Arthritis is the villain of that chapter. Or, in retrospect, maybe it’s the hero.

Loveless worked many years as a seamstress until arthritis developed in her hands and wrists from overuse. She loved sewing, but it became too painful.

“I think the damage was done by ripping out hems,” Ann said after a Sept. 12 lecture titled “An Artist’s Journey From Art Quilts to Art Prize” at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. “I can’t pull things apart. I have to hire someone to pull weeds in my garden.”

So, 10 years ago, during an alterations-induced arthritis flare-up, Ann’s doctor suggested that she find other work.

“Not happening,” Ann thought.

Sewing had always played a starring role in her life. She was aiming for a career as a fashion designer when she earned a bachelor’s degree in clothing and textiles at Michigan State University in 1982. Instead, she chose to return home to Frankfort, marry photographer Steve Loveless, and raise a family. But she stayed in touch with her calling by creating custom bedding and draperies.

She can’t imagine her life without bolts of fabric and spools of thread.

Finding another way

The arthritis wasn’t leaving so Loveless resolved to find a way to sew that didn’t bother her hands.

That’s when she focused her creative energies on quilting. She had made some traditional quilts in the past, but knew the arthritis wouldn’t permit long periods of hand sewing.

Over the last nine years, Loveless has developed or perfected three unique quilting techniques, which she gets invitations to teach to quilting guilds around the nation.

  • Collage. She creates these quilts from the top down by placing colorful pieces of fabric onto a background, then free-motion quilting the scene with a long-armed sewing machine.
  • Confetti. Loveless arranges tiny pieces of fabric mosaic style and fuses them onto a background. Detail pieces are added in the foreground with other fabric scraps, yarns and ribbons. The scene is then free-motion machine quilted.
  • Impressionistic. Loveless creates these wall quilts by layering pieces of fabric under a polyester tulle netting, and then free-motion machine quilting them in place.

Loveless’s “Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore” quilt, now owned by ArtPrize, includes raw-edge applique. Over 400 hours, she fashioned it from 30 yards of fusible web and about 75 yards of batiks and cotton print fabrics.

At 20 feet long and 5-feet wide, Loveless had to duct-tape the four panels of the quilt to the walls in a long hallway of a church to line up the visual elements.

The life of an artist

Loveless said her challenge now is balancing her time between teaching and creating. A quilt commissioned by Michigan State University was unveiled at the institution’s Medical School in Grand Rapids on Sept. 20.

There are no patterns for an Ann Loveless art quilt. She doesn’t even use tracing paper. She works in the company of her three dogs in her home studio by looking at photographs shot by her husband, Steve.

Their favorite subjects? Birch trees, flowers, ferns, sunsets, sparkling water and glistening snow and other natural features of Northern Michigan.

What’s the secret to creating a breathtaking landscape quilt?

“Dune grass,” Loveless said. “When I step back and ask myself what it needs, it’s always more dune grass.”

The Loveless’s work can be seen at their gallery, State of the Art Framing & Gallery in Beulah. http://www.stateoftheart.gallery

Check out Ann’s website at http://quiltsbyann.com and Steve’s website at http://www.stevelovelessphotography.com.

Has a disability or medical condition forced you to find new ways to continue your vocation or a hobby? Tell us how you made it work.

Growing A Garden From a Wheelchair

Gardening is good therapy.

That’s what Cherry Overway says.

“When you see weeds, you’ve got a choice,” said Overway, 73. “You can watch it get worse or you can do something.”

Cherry Garden.jpg

Overway’s garden is tucked away at the end of Myrtle Avenue in Holland. You stroll through it to get to “The Cherry Tree House,” where she has lived 48 years, which faces East End Drive.

The long, narrow garden features 647 varieties of flowers, almost all of them perennials. The garden comes alive with color with the blooming of the crocuses in March and continues through October with the mums. 

A seven-month garden is a fine achievement in West Michigan. What’s more astounding is that Overway tends it all from her wheelchair, a rolling stool or by scooting along while sitting on the end of a wagon.

“It’s a lot of work in the spring, but it’s nice to get out here after sitting in the house all winter,” said Overway, who contracted polio at 18 months of age, before the vaccine was invented. “During the summer, I’m outside 12 to 15 hours a day. Sometimes I’m working but mostly I’m just enjoying it.”

Overway likes to share her garden with friends and neighbors. Members of the Holland Horticultural Club encouraged her to throw a garden party in 2001, and Overway has continued the tradition every year since on the first Sunday of June, when her irises are in their glory.

Close to 100 people stop by some years – and not just for Cherry’s Memphis-style barbecue.

Overway enjoys telling guests who ask the history of her garden, which was an open space when her daughters Kathy and Kristi were little.

But a neighbor, who has since moved, decided to erect a fence. Her neighbor on the other side later did the same, framing in her irregular-shaped lot.

So, Overway did what gardeners do when they’re slightly miffed. She planted marigolds on her property line.

She liked the color. She liked finding new and exotic plants. Truthfully, she says she couldn’t resist buying plants she didn’t have. And friends and family gave her plants for special occasions.

Until four years ago, Overway was able to get around with a walker, but even then it usually worked better to garden from a seated position.

She designed her garden with raised beds that she doesn’t have to bend over to tend. The beds are narrow so she doesn’t have to reach far, but she also has gardening tools with good, fat grips that easier to use.

Paving and making paths wide enough to maneuver in a chair is essential, Overway said.  

Her original path, paved with concrete blocks, leads under an arbor where there are two steps down.  When Overway moved to a wheelchair, she needed to have a second path constructed to bypass the stairs. Most visitors don’t realize that the second path, this one created with wood planks, is an accessibility feature. It just all blends in, she said.

Watering a garden with a hose can be a nuisance if you’re pulling it from a wheelchair, Overway said. She has soaker hoses installed beneath the topsoil to keep her garden soil moist.

Even if she didn’t use a wheelchair, Overway says she would have “zero interest in mowing grass” because it has to be done weekly. Her front lawn, facing East End Drive, is covered in wood chips except for an octagon-shaped patch of grass.

“Somebody said I had to have some grass,” Overway said with a huff. “There it is. My neighbor mows it when he cuts his grass.”

Gardeners with disabilities are wise to plan before they plant, Overway said. If she hadn’t decided on narrow, raised beds, she couldn’t have continued adding to the garden when she went from a walker to a chair.

She finds she can do most of the work herself, but says she’s also fortunate to have neighbor’s she can “call anytime about anything.”

They’re always willing to help. They enjoy Cherry’s garden, too.