Helping the disabled dance

Florida dance teacher invents the hands-free rolling dance chair

Author: Jodi Mohrmann, Managing editor of special projects, jmohrmann@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 15 2014 03:56:01 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 22 2014 06:20:00 AM EST
TAMPA, Fla. -

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,” said Brianna's  mother, Melba Biagi.

“With this you can just do like body movement and hand movement. Your hands are free,” said Brianna.

The 13-year-old 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 ten years ago while caring for her disabled dad.

“That experience definitely informed my understanding and awareness of disability issues,” Morris said.

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; Brianna 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 just, just 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.

1.6 million Americans use a wheelchair on a daily basis.  Now, Morris' invention may give them more mobility than ever before.  She was selected for the Smithsonian Insitute's National Innovation Expo. Morris is working with companies in Florida and California and  hopes to sell the chair to the public for less than $5,000.

Additional Information:

Wheelchairs are now some of the most advanced medical devices we have at our disposal. But early the earliest wheelchair wasn’t quite so advanced. Here’s a brief history of the development of the wheelchair.