In Conversation With Louise Sertsis, Creator Of The Handi Pac

Back in 2017 I started a series on my blog called 'In Conversation With' where I interviewed and talked to a wide variety of disabled people and those connected with disability, I've spent many years sharing my own experience of disability on my blog but that is just one experience and I wanted to widen my readers understanding of disability by talking to a range of different people. It's been quite a while since I last posted an interview but I'm hoping that the series will make a comeback this year, starting off with an interview that I've been meaning to post for far too long!

Photo: Louise Sertsis

I came across Louise Sertsis through her business, Advanced Freedom, last year when I was looking into bags that would work for me as a powerchair user, after having not much luck with anything from the mainstream market. I wanted to be able to travel from A to B with a bag without needing assistance from someone else and so I was delighted to hear about the bag that Louise had designed, The Handi Pac, a bag specifically designed for wheelchair users to give them freedom and independence when travelling. It's a bag that attaches to you, not your wheelchair, and sits on your legs rather than on the back of your chair allowing for easy access. Sometimes you come across things that you just want to shout about and this was one of those things!

I talked to Louise about the bag, it's importance and the future for herself and other disabled people looking to start up their own business. The Handi Pac is like nothing else on the market currently, Louise told me about what sets it apart from other bags.

'The Handi Pac is made specifically for wheelchair users, designed by someone who uses a wheelchair! It is the only front facing bag and the only bag that is secured to you rather than your wheelchair. It is a large bag to allow the user to use the bag for food shopping, school or travelling and it is the only bag that is flexible enough to detach into two. It uses magnetic closures rather than velcro or cumbersome clasps/connectors, and includes D-rings for easier grip for those who require it.'

  • Similar to a backpack for the able-bodied individual, but made especially for the seated person.  
  • The only bag that fastens directly onto the person, alleviating the need to retrieve items at the side or the back of the individual. Disabled people often do not have the capacity or the strength to turn around, let alone the ability to raise their arms while performing a specific task. 
  • Runs the length of your lower leg, with magnetic closures that fastens the bag around your calf area.  
  • All zippers/buckles on traditional bags are replaced by magnets.  
  • It's the largest wheelchair bag on the market; accommodates an array of items when shopping, going to school, or travelling the globe.  
  • Top portion of the bag is attached by magnets to the lower portion of the bag. This part of the bag allows for easy access to smaller items such as a phone, sunglasses, purse, wallet, sunscreen, magazines, calculator, notebooks, tablets, and more. 
  • Lap portion of the bag has a quick release seatbelt that fastens to the mid-thigh area and allows for easy removal, and is adjustable to the user. 
  • Water resistant to withstand changing weather conditions. - Advanced Freedom 

  • Photo: Louise Sertsis

    We also talked about where this all began and what made her want to start Advanced Freedom and go on to design and create The Handi Pac. 'I always found myself searching for items that were truly accessible for wheelchair users, the items available to date aren't completely functional for wheelchair users. I craved the independence I lost when I first started using a wheelchair and that's when Advanced Freedom was born. The Handi Pac is the first of many ideas I have to make life easier for wheelchair users but I started with The Handi Pac as I needed a bag that I could use completely on my own. I wanted a bag that I could travel, shop or run errands with without needing anyone else to hold on to my belongings.'

    I think this is a struggle a lot of wheelchair users share, I want to be independent but there are only so many bags I can hang off my powerchair meaning I either limit the amount of food shopping I do, for example, or I take someone with me to help. Many of us result to adapting how we do things, or adapting products already on the market so I asked Louise how she would like to see various industries change to adapt and cater better for disabled people.

    'I really feel that the disabled community have been forgotten when designing products, it's almost as if we are an afterthought or completely shunned from the mainstream markets. Many large chains just don't believe there is enough money or disabled people to warrant providing accessible lines. The internet is really the only option at the moment and even that is very sparse, I feel this won't change until a large corporation paves the way for others to follow.'

    I would love to see more disabled people following the path that Louise has gone down, taking matters into their own hands and designing products that work for themselves and other disabled people but it's no easy process, I spoke to Louise about challenges and barriers she's faced.

    'This journey is very exciting but at times overwhelming. It is very gratifying to see your idea come to life whilst helping others, I'm a sole proprietor and I'm learning as I go. I was very lucky to find a mentor, someone who truly believes in my product and especially in me. I'm beyond grateful for all his help, or else I probably wouldn't have gotten to this point. My recommendation would be to form relationships with like minded people who share the same vision as you. By building a team of people, things move a lot quicker and cause less stress.

    I think that if there were more disabled people creating products for the disabled market then I believe there would be a greater spotlight on disability as a whole. As they say 'necessity is the mother of invention' and unless you're in need of something it's difficult to create something completely new. That's half the creative process, if it's something you need then chances are many other disabled people would benefit as well.

    For me I'm still struggling with financial barriers, especially since I don't work and haven't in quite some time. I've found that I was unable to get a job because I am a wheelchair user so I made the decision to hire myself. I think hard work and never taking no for an answer has given me the chance to connect with the right people, to turn my dream into reality.  I really can't say how to make this process easier, but access to a computer has been my saviour as I'm able to do most things on there.  It's a lot easier to work from home, to be able show my product through Skype or messenger has been wonderful.'

    I was lucky enough to try The Handi Pac out recently and was really impressed by how high quality it was, as well as it being far easier to use than I imagined! The magnetic closures are simple and don't require too much strength to undo and the bag sits comfortably. Unfortunately for me it doesn't fit into my lifestyle, I would have trouble getting on the bus with it but I did speak to model, Samanta Bullock, who has found the bag to be very useful in her life.

    'I use the bag whilst travelling and it is a great concept, what I liked most is that it's very practical as everything you need is in front of you. It also comes with the lap bag that is a handbag attached to your lap giving easy access to the things we use often. With all the new improvements I am really looking forward to seeing it on the market. I believe it will help many disabled people.'

    The Handi Pac Kickstarter will go live towards the end of January/beginning of February, follow Louise and myself to keep up to date with when it's available

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