Wheelchair fencing innovation breaks down barriers to the sport

Novel affordable wheelchair design created.

Team creating Wheelchair fencing
Team creating Wheelchair fencing Image: Imperial College London

Aiming to dispense an economical choice of elite-level equipment so to open up the sport to people globally, a team of Imperial undergraduates has discovered a novel design for a Wheelchair Fencing frame.

During Wheelchair Fencing, athletes’ wheelchairs have to be anchored to the ground utilizing a frame. However, the cost of such equipment can be exorbitantly high, fetching hurdles for many yearnings to take part in the sport.

A team comprised of Camille Morand-Duval (Mechanical Engineering), Josephine Latreille (Dyson School of Design Engineering) and Leah Pattinson (Dyson School of Design Engineering) who worked with the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) on the project.

Study supervised by Dr. Ian Radcliffe from the Department of Bioengineering received a grant from IWAS to create a design for a Wheelchair Fencing frame utilizing economical, easily acquirable materials and which can be constructed utilizing simple methods.

They worked with GB’s Dimitri Coutya, double Wheelchair Fencing World Champion, to test and refine their prototype frame.

Student designer Josephine said, “We believe that anyone who wants to participate in a sport should have the opportunity to do so. But a lack of proper equipment can create obstacles.”

“Wheelchair fencing frames can cost thousands of pounds. This makes them out of the reach of many clubs, especially in developing countries.”

The team’s objective was to design a frame that could be replicated anywhere in the world by someone with only basic tools and no expert knowledge.

Josephine said, “The design process involved a lot of hacking and experimenting. Wheelchair Fencing frames are generally made with bespoke parts and specialist manufacturing equipment. We had to try and find ways to simplify this.”

Fellow designer Camille added, “We used materials that are simple to get hold of, or which could be easily substituted for what people might have lying around – such as car parts.”

As part of their research, the team spoke to clubs in South Africa, India, and Uruguay to perceive the necessities of several individual athletes, clubs, and coaches.

Following this feedback, the team opted for a modular design so that parts of the frame could be replaced, modified or upgraded where required. They likewise made the frame as lightweight and compact as possible so it could be easily transported to competitions – an important consideration for clubs.

Designer Leah explained, “Everyone is different, and the frame had to be able to adapt to lots of different needs.” 

IWAS CEO, Charmaine Hooper said, “The cost of a wheelchair fencing frame can often pose a challenge to athletes, clubs or coaches just getting into the sport. By delivering these free resources IWAS hopes to provide an alternative option that will help to eliminate this obstacle and make the sport more accessible for all.”

The final design, and simple instructions on how to build it has been made available free online by IWAS for clubs and athletes across the world to download and use.