It's a common summer scene, children playing in the water splashing each other, or going down a waterslide. But for some kids like Sam, water is an obstacle.
We typically avoid waterparks, because we know there's the ladder scaffold involved, you have to get up to the side. And also the rides in the water parks typically be, just aren't good for someone without balance. So that's just in general waterparks' challenge.
And being in a power wheelchair makes it even more difficult. These wheelchairs run on electricity, and when water comes in contact with them, the results can be shocking. So how do you build a waterpark that all kids can enjoy? That's the question Gordon Hartman had. He runs the world's first accessible theme park Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio.
We had to come up with a wheelchair that would allow for it to get wet and still be able to move out through the use of someone's ability to use a joystick.
That's when he discovered the work of Dr. Rory Cooper at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Dr. Cooper is world renowned for numerous patents and inventions when it comes to wheelchair technology. He's dedicated his life to improving assistive devices for people with disabilities.
I found Dr. Cooper from the first conversation we had on the phone, as a person who really wanted to work hard at ensuring that this idea that we had of developing this chair, which would truly be revolutionary.
Gorden and I have the same vision that's a world where everybody can participate together so that people with and without disabilities are on the same playing field. The idea is that hey, an air motor with air tanks, if it's feasible, may provide with a much lighter power chair, much more environmentally friendly that doesn't need to have the batteries replaced
And from that idea, Pneu Chair, short for pneumatic chair was born.
The Pneu Chair is powered strictly by compressed air. There's no batteries, so that makes it waterproof. We can recharge it in as little as 10 minutes, unlike current battery wheelchairs, that could take up to eight hours, it could revolutionize the wheelchair industry.
Brandon Daveler, a current graduate student at Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences is a researcher studying under Rory Cooper. Their team works out of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, where they modeled and built the new chair, the chair that makes a challenging trip to the waterpark, well, fun,
I like to have the freedom to run around.
It was rewarding to see just how he lit up and the enjoyment that he got out of going through the sprinklers on the water.
He wants to be independent. Quite frankly, we let him go for 30 minutes by himself. And that's what he wants.
And Rory thinks children without disabilities who witnessed this independence will be influenced too
That's the kind of experiences you want kids to have so that when they grew up, they don't have those biases. And they can say, oh, I've you know, I've seen people disabilities do it just like I have.
The positive influence of the Pneu Chair doesn't stop there.
The granting agencies and the clinical work sort of force you to think about a lot more in the medical aspects of life. It was great to see how much demand and energy there was for just having fun.
I've already seen how this chair has made a difference in the lives of those with special needs. The reason we are where we are today is because of Pitt, the commitment of Dr. Roy Cooper, all of his close staff and everyone involved who have made the dream of this chair possible. I think in many ways, we're just beginning.
I hope it expands through waterparks. I mean, we've been contacted by the National Park Service and the state parks for putting it at wave pools, beaches. I also think you know it's got a lot of potential for long term care facilities and nursing homes, big box stores, we had grocery stores and things contact us.
Gives us hope that one day we won't have to worry about any type of barriers in our world.