Meet Avery Kirby — An inspired veteran, an inventor on a mission

Though blind and disabled, lifelong carpenter keeps going

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 2/14/20

Of the many signs in Avery Kirby’s room at the Rhode Island Veterans’ Home, one above all others speaks volumes of the man who lives here:

“A quitter never wins and a winner …

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Meet Avery Kirby — An inspired veteran, an inventor on a mission

Though blind and disabled, lifelong carpenter keeps going

Posted

Of the many signs in Avery Kirby’s room at the Rhode Island Veterans’ Home, one above all others speaks volumes of the man who lives here:

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

Mr. Kirby certainly fits the definition of winner — and his strength and ability to persevere in the face of adversity are inspiring.

He suffered a stroke in 2008, which left him reliant on a walker to get around. The lifelong carpenter and then-resident of Block Island was recovering at his son’s house in Lincoln, and found that the walker made it difficult to fetch wood for the stove.

“With a walker, you can’t do a thing,” he said. “You really can’t.”

Not satisfied to let that stop him, Mr. Kirby sat down and drew up plans for a removable utility tray that can double as a seat, and allows people using walkers to transport virtually anything that will fit — from firewood to a beer.

In 2010 he was declared blind. Then he had a second stroke which cost him the use of a hand and a leg.

Undeterred, in 2014 he obtained a patent for his device.

“I gave it a name: Independence,” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of setbacks, but I feel like I’m here to help handicapped people get independence. I don’t know why I was picked to do this, I’m not a religious man, but I think God gave me the stroke so I would know what I needed to make.”

Of his persistence, he said, “Ask the nurses here; I drive them nuts. I’m on a mission. But I have difficulty doing it.”

A family of veterans

Independence is important to Mr. Kirby on many levels. A veteran whose brothers are all veterans, he is now living in a community of veterans, many of whom share his values. “A lot of the guys here, they have been to hell and back,” he said. “But they are people who, if they’ve got something to do, they do it. They don’t sit around and whine about it.”

A carpenter since the age of 16, Mr. Kirby has a long portfolio of projects and satisfied customers on Block Island. With the help of his son, and a donation of materials from his grandson’s employer, Arnold Lumber, he’s made and given away nearly 200 trays, mostly to fellow veterans.

Yet despite his affinity for wood, he knows it’s not the ideal material for his invention.

“If I can get a plastic manufacturer involved, it would be lighter and easier to clean,” he said. “But I’m a carpenter, I don’t know beans about the rest of this stuff, and I don’t have the funds to do it on my own.”

A widespread problem

What’s the potential impact? Walker use is reported by nearly 2 million Americans, and according to consumeraffairs.com, the number of seniors using mobility aids has increased about 50 percent in the last decade.

To further his goal of finding a manufacturer, Mr. Kirby goes downtown when he can, to distribute his informational pamphlets, which include a schematic of his design and a copy of his official patent. Whenever he gets $200, he makes $200 worth of pamphlets.

But it’s often hard to find a spot with his scooter; and his blindness makes it extra challenging.

What’s more, he doesn’t always feel welcome.

“I have felt looked down on, like people thought I was a bum.”

Mr. Kirby said he recently ran into Police Chief Kevin Lynch at the library. “I asked the chief where I could go, and he said anywhere.” Then the new chief did something that earned Mr. Kirby’s admiration and gratitude.

“He came to my room and gave me this,” he said, handing over a laminated card on a lanyard. It is an official town license to solicit for the purposed of handicapped supplies and equipment.

“I think that’s really nice. It’s a kick in the pants to keep going,” said Mr. Kirby. “He’s a good man to me.”

“I’m fighting a lot of obstacles; I have about every setback you want,” said Mr. Kirby. “To me there’s no such word as can’t. That’s not in my vocabulary. You can do anything you make up your mind to do.”

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