Powered Wheelchair Makes Waves Under Water

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SAN ANTONIO - A powered wheelchair that can go underwater is changing the game for people with disabilities.  

There's nothing easy about being in a wheelchair, and even in a powered chair you can sometimes miss out on the fun.

"Just pushing, my arms get kind of sore," said seventeen-year-old Rachel Benke.

That's why she and her friends are excited about a new piece of technology coming to their favorite park - the world's first powered wheelchair that can be fully submerged in water. A University of Pittsburgh team is bringing the new technology to Morgan's Inspiration Island.

It's fueled by compressed air, weighs a third of the weight of an average chair and can travel three miles. A typical battery takes 8 hours to charge, but this takes 5 minutes.  

"The base or the seat are made to be separated so if someone has special seating needs we can bolt that on the top," said University of Pittsburgh's Human Engineering Research Laboratories Director Dr. Rory Cooper.

The chairs are made to be used by people all ages and ability levels. 

"Either parents with disabilities like our wounded warriors with the Center for the Intrepid can come over here and take their kids to the water park and splash around with them, and go into the ponds," Cooper said.

For the park, new comes naturally.

"It was the world's first ultra accessible park. Morgan's Inspiration Island will be the world's first ultra accessible water park, which many people didn't think was possible," said park's founder Gordon Hartman.

Not only is this chair the first of its kind, but it's staying in San Antonio. It's production will serve as a model for the rest of the world.

Inventors hope it catches on in places like grocery stores, airports and nursing homes.

"I think it's a green power technology that is actually going to be cheaper, more cost effective and require less maintenance," Cooper said.

As for Rachel and her friends, they've already got plans.

"The water slide and the pool," she said.

The park also introduced a similar chair for people needing extra assistance.

Both types will be available when the splash park opens this spring.

From here inventors will be working to create chairs with different seat functions and power controls. 

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