Fear no Fall

wheelchairAs more wheelchair users participate in sports it is becoming evident that new technology needs to be developed to keep pace with the rigors of playing games such as basketball, hockey and tennis. One problem all wheelchair athletes face is getting their wheelchair back up right after a fall. Playing competitive sports leads to some rough collisions and many wheelchair users have voiced concern about not being able to get their wheelchairs back up fast enough and having the game stopped.

Now, though, with the help of students at the Imperial College in London, wheelchairs are being designed so that people with disabilities can easily push themselves back onto their wheels. Basketball is the first sport the students thought of when developing the technology but say it can be used for other sports as well.

When disabled people participate in wheelchair sports they are strapped into their wheelchairs and find it difficult to push the wheelchair upright because of the way the wheelchairs are currently designed. Another problem is that some players have less control over their abdominal muscles and have weak upper arm strength so they lack the power to push themselves up.

The design by the Imperial students enables players to push themselves into an upright position by augmenting the front bumper section of a sports wheelchair with a metal wheel and rubber casing and a clutch mechanism in the frame. This provides a lockable pivot point between the wheelchair’s bumper and the floor so that players can push themselves up from the floor and re-right the chair without assistance or having the game paused.

The project is part of a five-year Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge which aims to harness the creativity of Imperial’s students in order to make sports more accessible to people with disabilities and improve the sporting and training equipment available to them.

Simone Castagno, one of the Imperial designers, told the campus newspaper, “We want to empower players who compete in wheelchair sports, so that they don’t have to rely on others to get them upright and back in the game. Ultimately, we hope to see our device being used by sportspeople in the near future.”

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