Throughout her life, Cindy Dillenschneider has relied on the outdoors for great joy and occasional solace.
Now, as a first-time inventor, she wants to give people with disabilities similar experiences.
The device she developed, an adaptive canoe paddle called One-Arm Freedom, allows people with one usable arm to perform all of the same strokes as people with two arms. The product sells for $600 and is making its debut this weekend at Canoecopia, an annual canoe-related educational event and equipment sale in Madison.
"It's about equity and access," said Dillenschneider, 52, a professor of outdoor education at Northland College in Ashland. "It's about everyone having opportunities to experience the same kind of wonders of the outdoors."
The device employs an angled shaft connected to a saddle that sits on the user's shoulder. The saddle and the way the shaft attaches to it substitute for the second arm, she said.
Developing the product took about five years and proved daunting, she said. She took a teaching sabbatical to spend time in a prosthetics lab and received a patent in 2007. Several regional businesses helped develop prototypes, and students at both Northland College and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Ashland assisted in the design and marketing process.
"She's done an amazing thing," said Ed Vater, president of Bending Branches in Osceola, a large paddle manufacturer that donated some of its services during the product's development and will make the paddles. "It took a lot of determination for someone in the academic world to spend that much money and time to develop a product. Almost no one can do that without the resources of a corporation behind them."
Dillenschneider said she is not out to make money.
"All of the commercial entities involved have been very willing to let me price the project so that it is sold essentially at cost," she said. "It's an investment in goodwill on everyone's part."
The first adaptive paddles are expected to be available to consumers in June, she said. She is taking orders at Canoecopia and via e-mail at email@example.com. Eventually, Dillenschneider said she hopes the product will be available in stores.
[In this video, Grant Herman, director of the SOEI, demonstrates an adaptive paddle for one-arm use developed by Cindy Dillenschneider, professor of outdoor education at Northland College.]