By Kate Hunger
Wheelchair users visiting the new accessible splash park at Morgan's Inspirational Island are able to enjoy water activities without fear of damaging their own equipment, thanks to specially designed waterproof wheelchairs available for use by the guest.
Ana Allegretti, Ph.D., OTR, assistant professor of occupational therapy, led the training sessions on fitting the chairs the week before Morgan's Inspirational Island officially opened on June 17. Fifteen second and third-year occupational therapy students participating in the training, in which they learned how to properly fit the waterproof wheelchairs for guests of varying sizes and requiring personalized support and settings.
"They say, 'We don't have words to describe what just happened here," Allegretti said of the reaction of parents whose children used the park's waterproof wheelchairs, which enabled some to experience a water park as a family for the first time.
"Some kids are 20 years old and they have never been to a water park before or they just been watching other kids play," she added.
The park's waterproof wheelchairs include rigid models for those who can propel themselves independently, a reclining style and pneumatic chairs which use air power, said Brooke Matula, director of recreational therapy for Morgan's Wonderland.
Allegretti and Matula are hoping to formalize the relationship between the park and the Department of Occupational Therapy so that students continue to help fit the wheelchairs and work with volunteers.
Students who participate in the fitting training sessions appreciated the opportunity to engage with families to achieve the most comfortable fit for their child. Wheelchairs users must be careful not to expose their chairs or equipment to water damage, which is what makes the park's chairs particularly special.
"It's never really inconspicuous or natural for them to go and access these activities," said Amy Honeck, a third-year OT student who attended the training. Honeck noted that the chairs include waterproof areas for equipment such as ventilators. "It was really exciting to get them to be very comfortable."
Honeck plans to return to Morgan's Inspiration Island this summer to volunteer as often as possible.
"It is my desire for people in wheelchairs to receive the best fit and safest fit," she said. " You want to see them go out and have a good time but not to slip and slide to the point they are uncomfortable."
"We were really challenged and had to think on our feet that way, " Smith said.