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Professor creates chair for disabled to dance

Dancing is something many children with physical disabilities can only dream of.
But dance professor Merry Lynn Morris is hoping to turn those dreams into realities.
Morris has been working on a special wheelchair that enables people with disabilities to dance in a way not previously offered by any other invention. She has now created a model chair that has received two U.S. patents, been chosen for the 2013 National Innovation Expo with the U.S. Patents Office and Smithsonian Institute and recently received a Thather Hoffman Smith Award.
The chair itself is an omni-directional, smart-phone controlled powered wheelchair.
It has a seat that can be interchanged for style and comfort and the smart-phone can be attached to the dancer’s body or controlled by someone else, allowing the dancer a range of motion previously unthinkable.
Morris said her main inspiration for her work was her father, who was in a severe car accident and became disabled.
“I was deeply affected by my experience which turned our lives upside down,” she said.
Morris said she learned life can change very quickly, and since it does, people need to be able to adapt their lives to accommodate the change when it occurs.
“I thought about the fact that as human beings we change,” Morris said. “It is a natural part of life.”
Morris said it’s not just enough to enlarge doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or to improve the features and technology of phones for the disabled.
When caring for her father, Morris said her family, used music, dance and movement to try to help him after the accident, “using the arts in really creative ways.”
This gave her the idea to work with people with all sorts of disabilities in less technological and more creative ways, she said
She began to work with individuals with disabilities and began wondering if there was a way the chair could stand up and “help the body go through the movements it should be going through.”
The chairs are good for short-term solutions, but Morris wanted to find a solution of a chair that would be beneficial for people in the long-run as well.
Morris said she can see the chair being used beyond the dance world, in everyday life in the future as it gives the user more freedom than previous chairs.
“It become more about expression,” said Morris. “Regardless of if the person has a disability or not, that is what we do as dancers.”
Morris said she has since received e-mails from children with disabilities who are ecstatic to hear about a chair that could finally let them be a dancer.
“Movement is natural, we have instincts as human beings to want to experiment with movement,” said Morris.