Life Lessons

Life Lessons: Helping the disabled dance

Life Lessons: Helping the disabled dance

Brianna Blanchard has spina bifida. She's been confined to a wheelchair most of her life.

Today, she's testing out a new kind of chair that could take her places she's never been before.

"It's emotional. Some of the movement, Brianna has never experienced," explains Blanchard's mother, Melba Biagi.

"With this you can just do like body movement and hand movement. Your hands are free,"  says Blanchard.

The thirteen-year-old Blanchard wants to be a dancer. "I would use it every day if I could," she said.

University of South Florida dance instructor Merry Lynn Morris invented the hands-free rolling dance chair. She came up with the idea 10 years ago while caring for her disabled dad.

"That experience definitely informed my understanding and awareness of disability issues," says Morris.

Lots of twists and turns along the way, but Morris kept at it because of people like Blanchard.

But now the patent-pending omni-directional chair is on center stage. A smartphone application controls the movement; Blanchard has it strapped to her waist. The app takes cues from her movements.

And it's a lot different than a motorized chair especially because it has height control.

"Even ust being able to have that person rise in the space and be at eye level with other individuals is so wonderful in terms of human communication," Morris said.

Morris is working with companies in California and Florida. She hopes to sell the chair to the public for fewer than $5,000.


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