New Ergonomic Wheelchair Seats Allow for Greater User Movement


Pic courtesy of Science Daily.

The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have teamed up with the design firm “r going” to design a seat for electric wheelchairs that allows users a greater range of movement. Sitting in one position all day is not good for anyone’s health, but it poses special risks for chair users. Too many hours in one position can leave them with bedsores, pain, and even deformities. The Empa/”r going” seat is designed to encourage the sort of movement that prevents these negative side effects. Science Daily reports:

The new seat shell has an articulated backrest constructed of of ribs and movable joints which are designed to match the contours of the user’s torso. Depending on the version, the backrest can be tilted up to 22° forwards and 40° backwards and seat can also be rotated by a good 30° in each direction horizontally. The wheelchair user is therefore strongly encouraged to keep changing his or her position, thereby shifting the location of the pressure points, as measurements with a pressure mat on the seat have shown.

Empa reports that its practical testing went well, with test users being quite satisfied with the new seat. Official clinical trials are planned for the near future to ensure that the new technology successfully combats the kind of conditions it was designed to prevent. We’ve got our fingers crossed and hope to see the Empa/”r going” seat hit the market soon!

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20,000 Children Participate in Disability Sports Program in Northern Ireland


Pic courtesy of Inside Ireland.

More than 20,000 children in Northern Ireland have participated in the 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge, reports Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín. The program offers kids both with and without disabilities the opportunity to try their hand at five different Paralympic sports: wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, boccia, curling, and goalball. These activities help to educate young people about physical disabilities while demonstrating that they don’t prohibit an active, athletic lifestyle. Plus, they’re a lot of fun to play!

The events are also stoking excitement for the approaching Olympic and Paralympic Games. According to the Sports Minister:

What the pupils … have experienced will resonate with them in the build up to the Olympics and long into the future. The 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge has broken down barriers, raised awareness and had a positive impact in the countdown to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This sort of programming is invaluable. By reaching kids when they are still young, we can empower children with disabilities and educate their peers before they have a chance to acquire any anti-disability prejudice. This is why BlazeSports takes its innovative BlazeDays program straight into the schools, including our recent trip to Cotton Indian Elementary School in Henry Country, Georgia. The kids at Cotton Indian got the chance to play sitting volleyball, wheelchair racing, and boccia.

For more information on bringing a BlazeDay to your (or your child’s) school, please contact Gillian Sharp, Manager of Community Programs. You can reach her by phone at 404 270 2034 or by email at gsharp@blazesports.org.

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Denise Castelli on Learning to Swim All Over Again

Denise Castelli recently lost a leg in an accident, but her competitive spirit is still burning. As she looks to reignite the athletic lifestyle she led before her amputation, Denise is one of seven participants in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge organized by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. She’ll be using a prosthetic leg for the biking and running events, but artificial limbs are ill-suited for swimming. This means that Denise is busy relearning how to swim, this time as a woman with an amputation. She wrote a compelling post about this new challenge on the CNN website. An excerpt:

I jumped in the pool for the first time and, much to my surprise, it was not as bad as I expected it to be. My coaches, Mickey Cassu and Kristin Cacicedo of Start-Tri.com, had me swim the length just to see where my knowledge base was. By the time I reached the end, I was panting. All I could think was, “How am I supposed to swim half of a mile… in the Pacific Ocean?!?!” …

“Head in the water, rotate every third stroke to breathe, repeat.” Trying to form muscle memory is a lot harder than I remember. It’s going to take a lot of repetition. It’s going to take a lot of repetition!

We’ll be tracking Denise’s progress and invite you to do the same by checking in on the Triathlon Challenge’s website.

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BlazeDay at Cotton Indian Elementary

This week the BlazeSports Program staff visited Cotton Indian Elementary School  in Henry Country to hold a BlazeDay for the enthusiastic students and staff. A BlazeDay provides a unique opportunity for students to learn about and then take part in a number of Paralympic sports.   After watching a short Paralympic video, the Cotton Indian students had a taste of sitting volleyball, Boccia and wheelchair racing.  The students were delighted to race their peers in a wheelchair, spike the ball towards the other team, and practice their target throws in Boccia.

Following the activity the students were armed with questions, most of which were directed towards our former international wheelchair basketball player, Cully Mason.  This section of our BlazeDay is the perfect chance for the young people to ask about what it is like to be a in a wheelchair and how a wheelchair user deals with the day-to-day tasks. “ How do you put on your shoes?” was  a popular question, “How do you get to work?” another,  and then much to the amazement of the students Cully provided a demonstration of his basketball skills, which even after a few years off the court are not too rusty!

BlazeSports America would like to thank Cotton Indian Elementary and especially PE teacher, Miss Shumate, for hosting our team over the 2 days.  We look forward to seeing you again.

If you would like to host a BlazeDay at your school, please contact Gillian Sharp, Manager of Community Programs, for more information:

Tel: 404 270 2034

Email: gsharp@blazesports.org

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USAID Fights to Make Sure All People with Disabilities Get the Right Chair

Simply having a wheelchair is not enough to allow a person with disabilities to achieve mobility. They need the right chair, and they need the chance to learn how to use it. Of the world’s 65 million people who need chairs, less than 5% have access to a chair that properly fits them. The choices of chair users in less developed countries are often severely limited by the short supply. Most have to make do with whatever chair they get their hands on. This may be better than nothing, but a chair that’s too big can render travel unwieldy while one that’s too small can cause pain and discomfort.

Our friends at USAID are working to change this. As Rob Horvath, the organization’s manager of programs for chair users puts it, “Wheelchairs bring mobility, but well-fitting wheelchairs bring independence.” To this end, USAID is backing efforts in 15 countries to match people with the right chairs. Because of them, we are already seeing increased mobility for persons with disabilities in Albania, Georgia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Togo. We at BlazeSports commend these efforts and we are proud to continue our work with USAID.

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Atlanta Police Ticket Woman with Disability for Parking Legally


A disability license plate, similar to the one ignored by the Atlanta Police Department. Pic courtesy of Le Rosier.

Anne Harper had a problem. Other residents at her apartment complex frequently flouted both law and decency to park their cars in spots reserved for people with disabilities. Since she needed the extra space provided by these spots in order to get in and out of her wheelchair, this behavior was a major inconvenience for Harper. So you think she’d be relieved that the Atlanta Police Department took to patrolling her lot.

You’d be wrong.

The APD inexplicably gave Harper a ticket for parking in one of these spots. The strangest part: the officer had to write down her license plate number on the ticket, so there seems to be no way he could have missed that the plate is clearly stamped as belonging to a person with a disability. To its credit, the police department seems to be attempting to rectify the situation:

Atlanta police spokesperson Curtis Davenport told Viteri in a statement, “After looking into the incident, we have determined the ticket was written in error. We are working with the court system to have the citation dismissed.”

While I’m glad WSB-TV brought this story to light, I’d also like to take this opportunity to suggest that they use some person-first language next time they write about Georgians with disabilities. “Handicapped drivers,” “non-handicapped people”–this is the jargon of another time. Nowadays, we recognize that people aren’t defined by whether or not they have disabilities–not handicaps, disabilities. Disabilities are something that they have, not something that they are. Hence, they are “people with disabilities,” not “disabled people.”

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Oscar Pistorius on the Cover of NY Times Magazine

This is a big moment, friends. This Saturday, double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius will join the small handful of athletes in history to make the cover of the New York Times Magazine, and the accompanying profile of him is a must-read. The article devotes an incredible 6,000+ words to telling Oscar’s story, outlining his climb to the heights of the international track circuit, and assessing the controversy regarding whether or not his prosthetic legs give him a competitive edge.

The profile, written by Michael Sokolove, points out that Pistorius isn’t using particularly new technology:

The artificial legs Pistorius runs on, called Flex-Foot Cheetahs and manufactured by an Icelandic company, have been a point of contention, and he has had to fight efforts to exclude him. But amputees have been running on the Cheetahs since the late 1990s. None have approached his best time, 45.07 seconds, in the 400 meters.

Still, scientific opinion differs on how Pistorius’ prostheses shape his running style and ability. On the one hand, his artificial legs are lighter than biological ones, but on the other, they throw off his balance and make him slower off the starting blocks. However, given my experiences following the disability sports scene, I came away agreeing with scientist Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“In our society, we are trained to believe in a very narrow sense of beauty and physical power,” Herr said when I visited him at M.I.T. “A woman must be shaped in a certain way. Smart people look a certain way. When society sees Oscar winning against that perfect athletic form that they’ve been told of, there’s a confusion in the brain that immediately goes: ‘He can’t be a great athlete. It has to be the artificial legs.’ ”

Yes, this article is a long one, but it’s also required reading for anyone who claims an interest in disability sport. Dig it.

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