Ryan Eder's design is called 'The Access'. He sketched it out part of his thesis work at the University of Cincinnati three years ago, when he saw a wheelchair user in a gym struggling with fitness equipment.
He says that his exercise equipment will make it easier for the elderly to work a variety of muscles from the same station.
"People in wheelchairs need more exercise than able-bodied users due to their sedentary lifestyle. There is a trend slowly on the rise with fitness clubs trying to focus more on the elderly because the baby boomer population is entering retirement. This machine addresses those populations," Discovery News quoted Eder, who recently won recognition in BusinessWeek's International Design Excellence Awards, as saying.
As part of his research, Eder carried out an informal survey of 45 fitness clubs around the US, and found that 94 per cent of the gyms did not offer any wheelchair-accessible equipment.
He even used a wheelchair himself to test facilities that complied with regulations outlined by the American Disability Association, and found that they were not necessarily accommodating. "It is an injustice that equipment is not offered for them in public fitness centres," said Eder.
The Access has cuffs with Velcro wrist straps that have a metal hook sewn into them. Eder says that the exerciser can use the hook, instead of the physical strength of his hand, which may be lacking, to grip a handle.
The equipment also has an electronic system that allows the exerciser to change weight resistance with the push of a button, instead of removing a pin from a weight stack. The electronics also adjust lap, chest and back pads to the appropriate angle to accommodate a variety of users.
The equipment has been designed to include tethered hooks that stem from the base of the machine that attach to any part of it. Once locked by the simple push of a button, the wheelchair will not move during the exercise.
Eder has also adapted a locking method found in minivan seats to allow for a removable bench, so that it enables able-bodied users to roll the bench into position and perform exercises in the seated position. A simple pull on a strap will release the lock, and then the bench can be rolled out of the way.
"This isn't a piece of equipment that's going to sit there all day waiting for someone in wheelchair to use it," said Derrick Thayer, a vocational rehabilitation counsellor and a program director at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.
Eder is now looking for funding to develop his concept further. "If you dive into the world of wheelchair users, those people have suffered traumatic accidents. Now their lives are changed. The courage it takes for them to live a normal life is tremendous. To know that I might have an opportunity to help them is all the motivation I need," he said.