New device helps wheelchair-bound swivel

March 21, 2000

University Park, Pa. -- A team of inventors including a Penn State engineer has developed a device that allows a standard wheelchair to swivel much like an office chair, giving disabled individuals a convenient way to move within their workstations.

Similar to a kitchen's "lazy Susan," this device consists of a circular platform (made up of two aluminum plates) on which a person could position a standard wheelchair, says co-inventor Dennis Wess, associate research engineer at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory. Between the top and bottom plates of the device are approximately 500 tiny plastic spheres captured within grooves in the top plate, allowing the platform -- and the wheelchair resting on it -- to spin easily in clockwise and counterclockwise directions. The entire platform is less than half an inch thick, allowing a wheelchair to be easily rolled up onto the platform or off it.

The device also features a locking mechanism to keep the wheelchair in a stationary position and prevent individuals from stepping on the platform and injuring themselves when the device is not in use.

A third-generation prototype of the swiveling device is currently being field-tested by the Hiram G. Andrews Center, a Johnstown rehabilitation facility operated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Don Rullman, one of several who have tested the device at the Andrews Center, believes there is a definite market for it.

"It will enable a person, especially one with limited upper extremity strength, to turn a complete 360 degrees with little effort," he said.

Wess also received feedback from co-inventor Carmen Scialabba, a Congressional staffer who was instrumental in addressing design issues from a user perspective. Scialabba, a native of Butler, Pa., tested the first two versions of the device in his office in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, Wess is considering the creation of a motorized upgrade of the device so that wheelchair-bound individuals who cannot use their upper bodies will also be able to maneuver their chairs within a small workstation. "It's been rewarding to develop a device that may make life a little easier for someone needing a wheelchair," he says.

A U.S. patent application has been filed. For more information, contact Ron Huss at the University's Intellectual Property Office, at 814-865-6277.
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EDITORS: Dennis Wess is at (814) 865-7063.

Penn State

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