How a 5k race led to the creation of the Afari

Afari Walking Bike by Mobella

The Mobella Team

For this co-inventor, “I want to keep trying new things.”

"Or, I could say, this stupid old fart who listened to her husband wanted a sexy device so she wouldn’t fall on her keester,” joked Liz Depoy, one of the inventors of the Afari. She’s speaking about the origins of the sleek three-wheeled device she created with said husband, Stephen Gilson. As for the keester, she was looking for a way to protect it when Stephen convinced Liz that she should participate in the 5k run she had long been talking about. Both disability studies experts at the University of Maine—and both persons with disabilities—they quickly realized the key to accomplishing Liz’s goal was finding a way to support her “terrible balance” while training.

“We looked around for a device, and we could only find stigmatized, ugly devices,” Liz recalls. “Stephen’s background is in art. I said, ‘Let’s invent something that looks good and that functions, too.” With the help of Vince Cacesse, a good friend and professor of mechanical engineering at the university, they created the prototype for the Afari, with a combination of details that make it special. “We wanted a design that would be functional, that somebody would be proud to use in public,” Stephen added.

The couple wanted users to be able to stand up straight, not stooped over, as they walk or run with the balance, support and stability they need. As since the Afari is intended to take people outside, it also has brakes and active steering that make it suitable for a range of activities. Most important, however, the Afari’s functionality is matched by its stylish, contemporary appearance. Or, as Liz simply put it, “It’s cool.”

With that initial Afari prototype, Liz was able to complete the 5k race in 2013—“I did it, and I did not finish dead last!”—using her experience to help inform the Afari design that exists today. Since then, using the Afari is about continuing to open up a world of possibilities. “It’s not about being able to do things I used to. I want to keep trying new things altogether.”