Donning AFOs with one hand? Not possible…until now!

By Diane Vitillo, MS, OTR, PTA, CAPS, Original AFO Assist

When I was 5 years old, polio was not part of the life I had imagined for myself. In the early 1950's, thousands of children in the US were stricken with polio. Two of my playmates contracted the disease, but I was the lucky one…I didn't end up in an iron lung! My right side was paralyzed but after many years of physical therapy, I regained some function. That's how this story begins.

Fall fashion

The Challenge: Independently Put On Ankle Foot Orthosis One-Handed

Throughout my childhood and adolescent years, I developed many innovative strategies and techniques to use in order to successfully complete my daily living tasks (bathing, dressing, eating, etc.) using only one arm. I was able to share these techniques with my patients when I started my career as an Occupational Therapist.

The Challenge: Independently Put On Ankle Foot Orthosis One-Handed

During my 25+ year career in the rehabilitation field, I've worked with thousands of patients, many of whom were stroke survivors. One particular patient whose stroke resulted in hemiplegia, asked me to come up with a solution on how to independently put on an ankle foot orthosis (AFO, an ankle brace that prevents foot drop) using a one-arm approach. There were many products on the market to help a patient complete particular dressing tasks using only one arm but, sadly, there were no products that could help him with this particular task. Occupational Therapists love a challenge!

The Solution: Original AFO Assist

That evening, my husband and I worked together designing a prototype that could be used to hold an AFO in an upright position to allow for independent donning of an ankle brace using only one hand. With some minor adjustments made to a carpenter's mitre box that I found in my garage, I was excited to trial this prototype with my patient the next day during our treatment session.

Demonstrating AFO Assist

Nick (not his real name) arrived for his treatment session, and he watched me demonstrate for him how to use the prototype dressing aid to put on his brace. On his first attempt, he was successful in using a "leg lifter" to lift his affected leg into the AFO without the AFO tipping over!  We then worked together to learn how to slide his foot into his shoe, although this part of the dressing task created another challenge that needed to be solved. A new and improved product design for my Original AFO Assist which involved holding both the AFO and a shoe in a stable position during the donning process evolved over many months of beta-testing the prototype.

My goal of helping patients achieve maximum independence in completing their daily life routines was achieved but, more importantly, my patient's wish to put on his AFO and shoe independently came true.

For more information about the Original AFO Assist, visit

AFO Assist Demonstration

Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!

Sign up for the Abilities Buzz

Stay in the know on disability news and info.