Insider May-June 2007

by Quest Staff on May 1, 2007 - 3:50pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 3
Wayne Yarnall practices some moves with MDA HCSC Arika Escalona.

Dancing in the light

Dancing has been an important part of Wayne Yarnall’s life since he was 3 … at 65, the only thing that’s changed is his technique.

A few years ago, Yarnall, who has Becker MD, heard a polka band playing at a festival. Without giving it much thought, he began spinning his chair in alternating circles, moving with the surge of the music.

From there, it took a little courage to head out onto a dance floor, but once he did, he never looked back. He attended weddings and live music events and worked constantly on his technique.

And one day a woman asked him to dance.

He was elated, but also a bit uncertain. How to make his moves align with those of a partner who was quick on her feet?

He elected to have fun first and polish his moves later. And that was a turning point.

Having a partner, Yarnall says, “inspires you to invent things as you go along.” He found that if he moves quickly, the chair responds faster and can make more subtle movements than at lower speeds.

“Wheelchair dancing has to be at least partly illusion because the chair can’t keep up with the exact beat of the music,” he says. “You have to turn it into a magic show.” He accomplishes that by draping flashing lights and neon trinkets on himself and his Permobil Chairman.

There’s also the serious business of planning his moves.

“You have to raise the chair to its maximum height so you’re at eye level with your partner. Then you move to the far edge of your seat so you can move your body to some extent without necessarily moving the chair.”

Yarnall always wears a seatbelt, and sometimes a chest harness, to avoid falling. And when he’s really cutting a rug, he may have to take a break and allow his chair motor to cool down.

“If you approach wheelchair dancing in terms of what can’t be done, you’ll just get frustrated,” he says. “Instead, you have to turn those limitations into part of the technique.”

See more of Yarnall’s moves.

Darius keeps going

Darius Weems at the Grand Canyon

A prize-winning documentary film starring a 17-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is making the festival circuit across the country this summer. “Darius Goes West“ is the story of Darius Weems, who traveled in 2005 with 11 friends from his home in Athens, Ga., to California in hopes they could persuade MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ power wheelchair.

In a rented, wheelchair-accessible RV, the friends, including film director Logan Smalley, stop off at Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, go for a hot-air balloon and a river rafting trip. Along the way they discover new bonds of brotherhood and the knowledge that even when life isn’t fair, it’s a heck of a ride.

Darius and the film were featured on ABC’s “Nightline” in February.

Fishing for inclusion

Because he runs a nonprofit organization called Able West, Richard West of Tuckerton, N.J., is no stranger to showing people with disabilities how to get involved in community activities. As part of his mission of inclusion, West, who has limb-girdle MD, conducts an annual race for users of manual and power wheelchairs and hand cycles.

Last September, West, 58, organized his second annual half-day fishing trip for people with disabilities. It was a huge success with 15 participants, including 10 wheelchair users, aboard the chartered 85-foot Carolyn Ann III for sea bass fishing off Long Beach Island.

“It’s an endeavor that most people with disabilities don’t get the chance to try,” says West, who uses a power wheelchair and ventilator and has a tracheostomy.

To make the fishing excursion happen, West recruited a support staff to assist participants in setting up rods, putting on bait, getting the catch into the boat and filleting the fish.

“What I like is getting people out to do something that they wouldn’t normally do,” says West, who made a living as a commercial fisherman before his diagnosis in 1981.

West’s first fishing trip drew only five attendees and involved a smaller boat. But this year’s will be even better, he says, following newspaper stories about the 2006 excursion.

“My whole purpose is that if you get people with disabilities out where they can be seen as part of society, they become part of the everyday environment,” West says. “People see you out and understand that you want to do the same things on a daily basis that they do.”

For more information, e-mail

Small business gives power chairs an attitude

Want to spruce up your wheelchair? Ryan “Rhino” Woolard of Lafayette, Ind., has discovered an innovative way to decorate a power wheelchair’s joystick: Rhino Knobs. Last year, he started a business offering Rhino Knobs to power wheelchair users who are tired of boring, black joystick knobs.

Rhino Knobs were born as a project in Woolard’s art class at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

“I got sick of having a black knob, and I wanted something different that had texture and color to it,” says Woolard, 18.

Woolard, who has congenital myopathy and uses a power wheelchair and vent, sculpts the decorative knobs out of colored clay. He paints them and uses glitter for girls’ designs.

A small business was born when he got feedback from other power wheelchair users who saw Woolard’s creations.

He has 14 different designs, including a football, baseball, basketball, heart, flower and butterfly, and he makes personalized creations upon request. Rhino knobs cost $5 to $10, depending on the level of complexity.

Find out more by contacting Woolard at Raw3609 @

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