UK’s first dancing wheelchair comes to National Star

Students with complex disabilities are able to express themselves through rhythm now the UK’s first dancing wheelchair has been invented especially for them.

National Star teaches creative contemporary dancing, but the freedom of movement of students was limited because of the restraints of driving their electric wheelchairs with one arm.

National Star dance tutor Sarah Gardiner learned about a dancing wheelchair being developed in America and approached Remap Gloucestershire, a charity which helps disabled people live more independent lives, to see if they could help.

‘The idea was to enable wheelchair users freedom of movement with their arms and upper body so they didn’t have to drive their wheelchair with the traditional stick. This would allow for greater expression,’ said Sarah.

Remap volunteers Martin Davitt and Tom Bradley devised a system that uses sensors – one on a head band and one attached to an arm.

‘There are two sensors: one attached to the back of a head band and the other on an arm,’ said Sarah. ‘To move the chair forward you dip the head and to turn you rotate your arm.

‘This is the first wheelchair dancing system of its type to be made and used in the United Kingdom, and it is already proving a great step forward for students.

‘It has given the students that can access it a different way of moving and changes how they control travelling and turning in dance. It helps teach direction and the use of different pathways, an essential element of dance.’

Martin and Tom won a national Remap award for their invention, presented by its president Heinz Wolff. Like National Star, the charity’s mission is to help people with disabilities live more independent lives, but it does so by providing free bespoke equipment and solutions to problems they face.

Martin said: ‘I enjoy the challenge of solving problems and helping disabled people to live a full life, as independently as possible. Remap is an excellent organisation which helps provide solutions for the problems some people face in daily life. New volunteers who have practical skills and a flair for problem solving are always welcome.’

Sarah said the system will help improve students’ confidence and performance skills.

She added: ‘We are really grateful to Martin and Tom from Remap for making it possible and are looking forward to continue working with them to develop the dancing wheelchair further to allow maximum freedom of movement.’

Find out more about National Star’s Creative and Performing Arts programme.

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