Monday, November 26, 2012

Dear Nike: How about helping more kids and adults with disabilities?

Dear Nike,

I've been following the story of Matthew Walzer with enthusiasm. When I first read the letter the Florida high-school junior wrote to you, mentioning that he has cerebral palsy and that he has trouble tying his shoes, I knew just what he meant. Like Matthew, my son, Max, also has CP and cannot tie laces due to challenges with fine-motor skills. Like Matthew, doctors told us Max might never walk and, wow, does he walk. And if he is headed down the block toward the ice-cream store, he runs.

Max has orthotically-correct shoes with Velcro that fit over his foot braces; as you may notice, they're big and clunky and not exactly the kind of style that inspire shoe envy. We haven't been able to find a cool pair that fit over his braces, or that he could close on his own. (You may also notice the Nike sweat jacket, it's his sister's and they regularly argue over who gets to wear it; Max is not the least bit sibling-rivalry impaired.)

I loved Matthew's suggestion: that Nike design and produce basketball and running shoes with good support and a closure system that could be used by everyone. It was awesome when the letter spread through social media and reached your chief exec, Mark Parker. It was also awesome that Nike responded, creating a specially-engineered shoe for Matthew, and that you delivered two more pairs before Thanksgiving.

This is fantastic...if you are Matthew Walzer. Of course, it's a heartwarming story for all to hear; it's nice to know that companies care. Still, here's the thing: We parents of kids with special needs would like to think it's more than a token act of goodness. There are thousands more Matthews with cerebral palsy who sure would love an adaptive pair of Nike sneakers, just as there are many parents who'd like their kids to be able to wear the sneakers they grew up in and love.

Unlike Matthew, Max isn't yet able to write letters to companies. So here I am, his mom, speaking up for him in my usual quest to make him happy, help him fit in with his peers, empower him and generally enable him to kick butt.

Nike has a reputation for social good. Nike also has the smarts and technology to manufacture a line of sneakers for kids and adults with disabilities. How awesome would it be for a major apparel company to do that? I can't think of any other mass ones that make products for people with disabilities. You could, once again, show the world the way to innovate. And you are cool enough not to name the sneakers ortho-anything!

Max would rock those sneakers on his Little League Challenger Division team, for kids with special needs. He'd rock them when he rides his bicycle, plays adaptive soccer or cruises the mall for chicks. (Oh, OK, he's not yet doing that.)

So I'll borrow the phrase you made famous:

Just do it.

Your fan,

Max's mom


  1. That was great. I hope they listen. I love to hear about Max and his sister. Thanks for sharing. You are doing a great job as a mom!

  2. I love this letter! I believe Nike will come through! I am always looking for cool, stylish shoes to rock over my braces! This would make a positive impact in so many lives! C'mon Nike!!! Is there something we can sign or an address we can send additional letters? :-)

    Mariah Kilbourne

  3. Oh yes. I would love some cool shoes for both me and my daughter. We both wear leg braces and are always looking for shoes that have some small level of fancy or cool.

    I'm not sure who told shoe manufacturers that people who happen to have a disability don't care about style. We are a completely overlooked market.

  4. Our government covers having my kids shoes custom built over top of his splints, rendering the need for adapted Nikes useless. However, for everyone else who doesn't have the luxury of custom shoes, I really hope Nike hears this plea and rocks some special kicks for people who need modified shoes.

  5. I had no idea that Nike was only producing a custom pair of shoes for Matthew -- I assumed they were entering this market to produce shoes for ALL OF OUR KIDS!! We are a huge, untapped market!!!

    I will keep my fingers and toes crossed. Thanks for sharing Ellen! Louise

  6. Love this letter. It is so hard to find shoes to go with Ashleigh's AFOs. We have to go to Payless every time. I would love to be able to pay a pair of nice shoes for Ashleigh, but for Ash they have to have the sole to be the same height because if they are not, she falls. The weight of the shoe with the AFOs brings her down.

    Thanks so much for writing this letter. I had no idea that Matthew got his shoes (I did read his letter). That is wonderful for him, but you are right. Nike, What about those special needs kids in AFOs?

    My daughter does not have CP, but Spastic Paraparesis. At one time, we thought she did, but eventually Ash will be in a wheelchair. Losing all ability to walk. We are praying this never happens.

  7. My brother who is an adult would wear NIKE shoes with easy closures--they aren't just for kids, and not just for people w/special needs. A lot of people don't like laces--heck, I would buy the shoes if they were comfy and wide (I have fat feet). There IS a market for these shoes--Nike is missing the boat by not jumping on this bandwagon.

  8. What a super idea and it is so well-written. I hope this somehow makes it way to the people at Nike and they do the right thing!!

  9. the only shoes that fit over Kyle's orthotics are velcro plain black faux leather from Wal Mart. They are so NOT cool. Would be awesome to have Nike shoes!

  10. Such an awesome letter and an excellent idea! I have CP too, and I can tie my shoes, but I completely understand how hard it is to shop for shoes when you have CP...I've been there! Finding supportive and safe dress shoes, especially, is a headache for me, and I've had teachers who have taken off points in my school presentations because I wasn't able to wear fancy enough frustrating!

    Love this post, thank you!

  11. LOVE IT!!!! From a pediatric PT who knows lots of kids who would love Nike sneakers to fit over their AFO's. Great letter Ellen.

  12. Oh I hope they love your letter as much as we all do, and that they see how these shoes are needed by more than just that one person. My son hasn't learned how to tie shoes, and it may be years before he does learn, but with his large feet we have a problem -- velcro closures only go to the size he's in now. One more growth spurt and we are out of luck.

  13. I agree completely. My Max has the lightest, thinnest SMOs we could possibly have made- and yet, getting shoes over them is a nightmare. Because his feet are so small/short, then made wide by the brace, he may as well just wear the box the shoes come in. We started ordering the shoes the company makes especially for the braces... but they look like the white sneakers that my 80 year old grandpa wore... Plus, "geriatric white" sneakers in formal family portraits = not classy. (and in the snow- not good either). C'mon Nike, make us a pair of practical, functional, user friendly and cool as all get out pair of kicks!

  14. Such a great letter. I too have a son with AFOs and boy do I know how he' d love to have "cool" shoes. I think we should all send NIKE our own personal stories and break into another area in which our children are often over looked.

  15. What a great post. I have no idea why shoe manufacturers have not clued in. As an adult with CP finding comfortable shoes has been a life-long pursuit.

    My shoe of choice is the Nike Airmax line. The flexible materials don't pinch or rub my feet and toes. The air sole provides great support, and the shoes are super light. They are an investment, but so worth it for me.

    I do not understand why specialized manufactures have not bothered to make shoes that are functional AND ATTRACTIVE for people of all ages. None of them are even close to being fashionable for kids or young people. I'm 33 and refuse to wear them.

    I find this trend to be true across the board as it relates to almost everything related to special needs equipment and wearables. Functional seems good enough in their book. After-all, people with special needs don't worry about their appearance.

    It took months for me to find a rollator that was light, compact, strong, portable and tough. I ended up ordering from a Swedish manufacturer. It's been the best investment I've ever made.

    I wish American manufacturers would take the time to design products that go beyond simply being functional. Functional does not equal great.

  16. Great letter I hope they read it and manufacture the type of shoes that will make life easier for Max.

  17. You took te words right out of my mouth. I too celebrate Matthew getting sneakers to increase his hard-earned independence. However, our work is not done until all kids (and adults) can have access to mass-marketed, adapted sneakers. Otherwise this effort by Nike will be reduced to Tokenism and a publicity stunt.

  18. and just to put it out there, I sent what I thought was an impassioned letter to Converse asking them to extend the sizing on their highly accessible Chuck Taylor easy slip hi-tops

    And as an alternative I suggested they could offer the easy slip platform in their customimize options

    Unfortnately I never heard back. May I'll dust off that email and rattle that cage again.

  19. Original email sent October 2011, reposting to Converse Facebook page today!

    Hi Converse,

    You might not know this but you have given hope to kids physical disabilities who wear leg braces by offering the ALL STAR EASY SLIP hi tops. Finally a cool shoe that is easy to get on and accommodates a leg brace!

    What would make a great idea even better you could wonder; extend to adult sizes so kids can grow up continuing to wear their accessible hi tops. Sneaker options out there are limited and often boring for this crowd.

    More importantly being able to wear hi tops can bridge a social gap too helping kids with differences fit in with their peers.

    If mass producing it doesn't make sense please allow it as a customized sneaker. Our last pair was well made and we got a lot of mileage off it, we want more.


    proud mom to a 12 1/2 yo soccer and basketball player who happens to have cerebral palsy and loved wearing her red easy slip hi tops every day!

  20. The company that orders my son's AFO's also fit him with New Balance extra wide shoes and they pull out the inner soles for extra room. They've always fit well and we have yet to get a white pair, usually grey or navy. They always look like something we would choose if we didn't have AFO's.

  21. Yes! I feel you girl! I go with my dad to purchase my younger brother that has Down Syndrome a pair of shoes and in my disbelief they do not have large sizes of shoes that has straps.. sorry I don't want to put white unattractive shoes on my sweet thirteen year old brother he has so much more personality than that!


Thanks for sharing!

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