Kayak for disabled paddlers produced by Poly students
May 17, 2010
A first of its kind, the Adapted Paddling Launch Vehicle, designed to give people with disabilities a more enjoyable kayaking experience, made its way through the fog in the waters of Morro Bay on Sunday.
The adapted launch vehicle was the result of a collaborative effort between Cal Poly’s kinesiology and engineering departments. Square metal tubing, four plastic wheels and a tricked-out braking system form this innovative piece of adaptive technology. It functioned as designed; four kayakers and their assistants safely entered the water.
Working together under the guidance of kinesiology professor Dr. Kevin Taylor and local occupational therapist John Lee, students in the Adapted Paddling Program (KINE 407) implemented their creation at Tidelands Park.
“It feels like I’m in a cocoon,” Lee said as he was being lifted and transferred into the kayak.
Lee was the first to test the vehicle. He was lifted and assisted by two students using a device designed to transfer participants from their wheelchairs to the kayak. Then, secured in the launch vehicle, Lee and an assistant were rolled down the boat launch and into the water.
The success of the launch is indicative of Taylor’s commitment to the paddling program. He said he teaches his students that life is about adapting to life.
Adapted Paddling Program therapist John Lee (sitting) has volunteered his time teaching Cal Poly students way to make differences in the lives of people with disabilities. He awaits the first departure into Morro Bay from a student designed-and-built Adapted Paddling Launch Vehicle. Anthony Pannone-Mustang Daily
“I am really trying to get students to see the human being and look past the disability,” he said.
Lee works for Central Coast Assistive Technology Center, a company that provides technology to people with disabilities to help increase independence and function. He also serves as the paddling program therapist instructor. He said the launch vehicle is intended to minimize the amount of human assistance needed to get paddlers with disabilities in and out of the water.
Kinesiology senior Theresa Field helped design the project. She said a large sling is placed around participants, who are then lifted from their wheelchairs and lowered into the kayak. The lift is operated by a hand-pumped hydraulic system and suspends participants while the vehicle is manuevered into position. Once seated with the sling removed, the kayak is strapped into place and steered down to the edge of the water.
Despite the first, real-time application of both the hoist-lift and launch vehicle, Lee appeared comfortable during his trasition from wheelchair to kayak.
“Since this was the first time we used the vehicle, it will take a little bit of practice getting a routine down, which will help the process go quicker,” Lee said. “But, the time it takes to get the kayak on the vehicle compared to carrying it is worth it, given the safety and the comfort of the rider.”
Prior to the launch vehicle, Lee said participants had to be physically lifted from their wheelchairs into the kayaks, which made the process invasive and embarrassing, as it took four to six assistants to lift the kayak and walk it down the boat-launch ramp.
So, a team of mechanical engineers and kinesiology students was gathered to improve the issues of personal invasiveness and unsafe transportation.
The launch vehicle consists of multiple parts that can be quickly built up and broken down. Anchored by a typical mountain bike brake system engineered to work in reverse, the vehicle has plastic wheels with delrin bushings. Delrin is a high-strength plastic that is self-lubricating and won’t corrode or leak oil while in the water. The kayaks rest on two carpeted metal beams that can support 3,500 pounds. Mechanical engineering senior Erik Granstrom said the vehicle was built to be five times stronger than necessary.
Kayaker Thomas Athanasion, who is a five-time participant in the paddling program, said it’s exciting to have a new piece of equipment available. Seeing the program grow in the last couple of years has been nice, he said.
“For me, it’s a way to get out and have some fun, meet a few people and learn more about the kayak experience,” he said.
The entire team basked in revelation as the fog tried — but didn’t succeed — in dampering their spirits.
“It was nice to branch out and get to know other students,” Field said. “You get so stuck in your major and in your mindset, that it was nice to meet mechanical engineers and hear their thoughts on stuff. It was fun to learn so much about engineering.”
Mechanical engineering senior Matthew Resendez said it was “pretty awesome” to see something that started on paper as a design come to life.
“All our classes have been design, design, design and that’s it. So, we actually got to design, then build,” he said.
Although the day’s success hinged on the functionality of the launch vehicle, the umbrella under which the paddling program operates, Activity 4 All, has been successful since its beginnings.
Funded by the Christopher Reeve Foundation, Activity 4 All has delivered adapted physical activity programs to the community for 11 years through the kinesiology department as part of the Cal Poly Science & Translational Research in Diet and Exercise (STRIDE) initiative. STRIDE researches how activity programs work, why they work and how can they be improved.
“STRIDE is making the charge to look at activity across the lifespan, and Activity 4 All is making sure that we’re taking people with disabilities with us,” Taylor said.
The project is funded by a $125,000 National Science Foundation grant. Paddling program director and kinesiology graduate student Jackie Salamon said donations from the community help keep the program afloat. The program is one-of-a-kind in the United States, and participants’ disabilities range from low-vision to quadrupalegic.
“We’ve had participants who have no mobillity at all and we can still adapt the kayak so they can come paddling with us in Morro Bay,” she said.
She added that her life has changed for the better since becoming involved in the program.
“It opened my eyes and showed me that there is really no disability, just that maybe they need a little help to do something, a little more assistance.
When you see us out on the water, you can’t tell who has a disability and who doesn’t. Everyone looks the same, so that’s really cool,” she said.
Randi Osinek, the fiancee of program participant Matt Bausch, said she appreciates what Cal Poly does for the community because opportunities like this for people with disabilities are important.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “I don’t think people with disabilities get enough opportunity to be able to live life to the fullest, and this couldn’t be a better program in the world.”