Officials of unique Morgan’s Wonderland theme park and the Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) today unveiled the PneuChair™, a revolutionary waterproof wheelchair propelled entirely by compressed air that will enable special-needs individuals to fully experience new Morgan’s Inspiration Island splash park when it opens later this spring.
Without heavy batteries and electronics, the PneuChair™ weighs about 80 pounds overall in comparison with battery-operated chairs of up to 400 pounds and takes just 10 minutes to recharge, compared to 8 hours to charge an electric mobility device, said Dr. Rory Cooper, director of HERL, a joint effort of the University of Pittsburgh and the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The lighter-weight, less-complex PneuChair™ also is easier to maintain and repair.
“We want Morgan’s Inspiration Island physically-challenged guests to be able to enjoy our new splash park to the max,” said Gordon Hartman, founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation and builder of unique Morgan’s Wonderland theme park. “Besides, guests who rely on expensive power chairs for mobility can’t afford to get them wet, so we reached out to Dr. Cooper and his team for a solution.”
When Dr. Cooper got the call and funding boost from The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation in March 2016, HERL had been doing preliminary research on the PneuChair™ as part of a project supported by the National Science Foundation and the VA in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institut.
“Morgan’s Inspiration Island’s need and our HERL research are essentially an ideal match,” Dr. Cooper said. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative. In addition, PneuChair™ users not only will be able to experience wet environments but also take advantage of the chair’s lighter weight, less recharging time and less-complex mechanical structure than traditional battery-operated wheelchairs.”
Initially, 10 PneuChairs™ produced by Stealth Products of Burnet, Texas, a division of Pride Mobility, will be available for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
Morgan’s Wonderland officials also unveiled two other waterproof wheelchair designs – a push-stroller type for guests needing assistance from a caregiver for mobility and a rigid-frame, manual wheelchair for guests who can push themselves.
“We’ve worked with Convaid Products of Torrance, Calif., and Ki Mobility of Stevens Point, Wis., on these two reconfigurations,” Hartman said, “and we’re relying on a local upholstery company, Stephen McCune Co. Inc., to custom fit all the chairs with a color coding for quick sizing recognition. Those who need to transfer out of their individual wheelchairs into our waterproof chairs will be able to do so in spacious changing rooms.”
Hartman lauded a volunteer team of doctors, therapists, caregivers, special-needs individuals and Morgan’s Wonderland staff that has been meeting regularly for hundreds of hours over the past 18 months to make sure the wheelchair prototypes work properly.
Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park, overlooks the 8-acre catch-and-release fishing lake at unique Morgan’s Wonderland theme park. Included in the $16 million project are six major, tropically-themed elements. The River Boat Adventure ride will twist and turn more than an eighth of a mile through a jungle setting with bird and animal sounds in the background. Five water play areas – Hang 10 Harbor, Rainbow Reef, Shipwreck Island, Castaway Bay and Calypso Cove – will offer a variety of splashy elements such as raintrees, falls, geysers, jets, water cannons and tipping buckets.
The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) has been at the forefront of assistive technology research for 20 years. It is a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the UPMC Health System. HERL is dedicated to wheelchair and mobility research, specifically by improving the mobility and function of veterans and all people with disabilities through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation. Using state-of-the-art laboratories and research instruments, HERL also studies robotics in assistive technology, athletics in rehabilitation, assistive living spaces, wheelchair transfer efficiency, clinician training, and force and vibration on wheelchairs.
The inspiration for Morgan’s Inspiration Island came from Hartman and his wife Maggie’s 23-year-old daughter, Morgan, who deals with both cognitive and physical challenges. “We decided to call our splashy new attraction Morgan’s Inspiration Island because Morgan truly has been the catalyst for every project we’ve pursued to help the special-needs community,” Gordon Hartman noted.
Maggie Hartman added that “Morgan’s Inspiration Island – like Morgan’s Wonderland – will concentrate on inclusion and inspire guests with special needs to do things previously thought to be impossible. Those without disabilities and those with, including individuals in wheelchairs and guests with hearing and visual impairments, will be able to play alongside each other and gain a greater understanding of each other.”
The latest information on Morgan’s Inspiration Island as well as Morgan’s Wonderland admissions, operating days/hours of operation and special events/celebrations can be found at www.MorgansWonderland.com. The 25-acre theme park is located at 5223 David Edwards Drive in Northeast San Antonio, a half-mile west of IH 35 at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive.