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Inspired by those with disabilities, Nike designs hands-free shoe

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Posted at 1:39 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 16:00:24-05

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Nike has designed a shoe that’s easy to put on and take off without your hands, a helpful feature for those with disabilities.

The Nike GO FlyEase is part of a line of sneakers that was originally inspired by a teenager with cerebral palsy.

Nike said in a 2015 press release that designer Tobie Hatfield developed the FlyEase line after receiving a letter from 16-year-old Matthew Walzer in 2012.

In his letter, Walzer explained that he was born two months premature with underdeveloped lungs, which led to cerebral palsy. Though he overcame many physical limitations, tying his shoes remained a challenge due to lack of flexibility in one hand. As the teen prepared for college, he was worried about having to have someone help him tie his shoes.

“My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day,” Walzer wrote. “I've worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe, because I need ankle support to walk. At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”

Once Walzer’s letter landed in the hands of Hatfield, who had been working with Special Olympians on similar challenges, Nike says the designer reached out to the teen and began developing prototypes to address his specific needs.

Eventually, Nike delivered a special design to Walzer and kept working to develop better solutions for those facing similar difficulties. Nike says Hatfield’s journey led to the development of Nike FlyEase in 2015.

Now, six years later, the company is introducing the Nike GO FlyEase, a hands-free sneaker with a bi-stable hinge that enables the shoe to be secure in fully open and fully closed states.

“This duality allows another signature detail: the Nike GO FlyEase tensioner,” wrote Nike on its website. “The tensioner’s unique flexibility super-charges an action many might take for granted (kicking-off a shoe) and completely reimagines this movement as basis for accessible and empowering design.”

Nike says the hands-free shoe serves a broad range of active lifestyles, whether the customer is a Paralympic champion fencer like Bebe Vio, a student racing to class or a parent with their hands full.

“Usually I spend so much time to get in my shoes,” said Vio in a statement. “With the Nike GO FlyEase, I just need to put my feet in and jump on it. The shoes are a new kind of technology, not only for adaptive athletes but for everyone's real life.”

Sarah Reinertsen, another Paralympic athlete and a Nike FlyEase designer, told CBS News that people with disabilities, pregnant women and busy parents helped to inspire the concept of the new shoe.

The Nike GO FlyEase is available initially via invite for select Nike Members, with broader consumer availability planned for later this year.