Inventor Masters Universe From a Wheelchair : Lifestyle: Brad Sanders defies limitations, designing gadgets, furniture and tools to help disabled people cope. Brad's Toys are not just for fun.


Brad Sanders scanned the computer screen, deftly moved the cursor, and--with the flick of a button--zoomed in on a portion of what appeared to be a design for a sports car.

Sanders, 28, manipulated the computer controls, showing how easily he could alter the design, before breaking into a grin.

"This design is just a dream right now, but that's good," said his mother, Betty Sanders. "It's good to have dreams."

Complications at birth deprived Brad of oxygen, causing him to have poor control over his arms and legs, and little verbal ability, but leaving his mind sharp.

Using his computer, Sanders already has turned many of his dreams into a reality he uses to help others.

The racy, aerodynamic vehicle in Sanders' dream design is a four-seater wheelchair that, like many of his more down-to-earth ideas, is designed to help people with physical disabilities.

Sanders and his family have produced wheelchair-accessible computer stations, devices to help the disabled hold books, cards or pencils, and a modification making it possible to mow the lawn from a wheelchair.

The controls for Sanders' computer are mounted on an arm that swings out from his desk and is positioned near his face. With his cheek and chin, Sanders manipulates the controls and clicks the function buttons to turn his mental images into computer designs.

Betty and Richard Sanders say their son's talent wasn't inherited, but his practical way of dealing with problems may have been. That pragmatic approach led to the creation of Brad's Toys, a family collaboration.

"If we had a special need, we realize that certainly there are other people who have that need as well," Betty Sanders said.

Some of the "toys" the family designs are puzzling at first glance, but ingenious when their function becomes clear.

Richard Sanders pulls out a metal stick ending in a long spiral. An obscure cooking utensil? "That's so Brad can dye Easter eggs," he said, showing how it can be mounted on headgear to hold an egg.

Sanders' electric wheelchair makes use of one of the practical designs--a trailer hitch. With special attachments, Sanders has used the chair to plow the driveway in the winter, mow the lawn in summer and rake leaves in the fall.

He also has designed computer desks, wheelchair modifications and furniture for the disabled. Richard Sanders--with some help from sons Nathan, 25, and Steve, 30--builds most of the "toys" from Brad's designs.

"It's really nice to have something custom-made for people who have special needs," said Stacey Jones of Northbrook, whose 8-year-old son, Jeffrey, uses a computer desk Sanders designed about three years ago. The desk accommodates the child's wheelchair and the expanded keyboard he uses to communicate.

Sanders' designing skills may be traced to his early years, which were spent in Africa where his parents worked as missionaries for more than 10 years.

While in Chad, the family was challenged to develop new skills, constructing medical buildings, chapels and homes. As the parents learned, they explained things to their three young sons.

"Brad seemed to understand everything," Betty Sanders said. "You could see it in his eyes."

After returning to the United States in 1979, the family eventually settled in Glenview, a suburb about 20 miles north of Chicago.

Sanders spent two years at a school for the handicapped before transferring to Maine East High School, where he took both special education and mainstream classes before graduating in 1985.

Sanders was introduced to computers in school. Minutes after receiving his home computer in 1989, he taught himself the programs and began designing.

"What Brad really wants now is a job," Betty Sanders said, as her son nodded and smiled.

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