Demo of rowing gear for paraplegics

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Specially adapted rowing equipment will be showcased to MPs at the launch of the Assistive Technology (ATcare) Design and Development Centre tomorrow.

People with spinal injuries have been able to compete at major rowing tournaments alongside able-bodied competitors thanks to the equipment, which was developed by the functional electrical stimulation (FES) rowing project.

Prof Brian Andrews, the FES project leader based at Oxford Brookes University, said: ‘The technology has helped people with spinal injuries to participate in more health, leisure and sporting activities and plays an important part in rehabilitation. Indeed, some have gone on to compete at the very highest levels.’

The technology works by stimulating muscle contractions by applying electrical pulses through electrodes attached to the skin. This electrical activation enables the movement of the legs to product a rowing motion. In the simplest arrangement, the rower can control each stroke by pressing and releasing a switch, and a computer system ensures that the coordination of movements between the upper and lower body is as smooth as possible.

Using adapted rowing machines, paraplegic rowers have competed at competitions such as the British and World Indoor Championships.

Researchers from the London Regatta Centre, the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex, and Brunel, Glasgow, Harvard and Alberta universities, are the other project partners.

ATcare aims to help more products designed for disabled and older people to get to market.