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Wheelchair with 'smartphone' guts offers disabled gift of dance

People who don't suffer from disability tend to take a lot of things for granted. Most have no reason to give a thought to the challenges that everyday activities may present to someone in California who has limited or no control of their limbs because they were disabled at birth or who became permanently disabled because of an accident.

They also may have no appreciation for the financial challenges that a disability can represent. Social Security disability benefits may be granted if eligibility can be proven, but the process of applying is arduous and can lead to frustration. If one necessary legal requirement is somehow overlooked, it can lead to denial. An attorney's help can be critical.

Freedom of movement as expressed through dance is perhaps one particular thing that many with disabilities wish for and feel they can never enjoy. But that is due to change if a dance professor from Florida has her way. 

In her view, anyone who wants to dance has the right to, regardless of their body's possible limitations. She holds to that conviction so strongly that it has led her to create the Rolling Dance Chair.

The chair is the brainchild of Merry Lynn Morris, a dancer with a passion for bridging the worlds of science and the art of movement. She apparently got the idea for the dance chair back in 2000 after she saw a performance by wheelchair dancers. As elegant as it surely was, she found the mechanical effort the dancers had to use distracting. It sparked the question, what would it take to make the chairs dance?

That question has spurred a number of prototypes of her chair, the latest of which involves a base that features a seat that functions like a joystick controlled by a smartphone. The dancer in the seat moves the chair by tilting his or her body in the desired direction. The result is a unique level of control that allows the users to express themselves through fluid motion.

Engineers working on the device say they hope to will eventually be able to be used for much more than just dance. Morris says that's what she has wanted from the start.

Source: Providence Journal, "Rolling Dance Chair a step toward freedom of movement for people with disabilities," Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times, Feb. 2, 2014

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