University of Victoria

Together we CanAssist.

Bocce Ball Releaser

Every Saturday morning at the Boys & Girls Club in Victoria, a group of athletes with special needs gets together to play bocce ball.

Many players aren't able to throw a ball by themselves, so a few years ago, CanAssist created an aluminum ramp to be used during their games. Players could press a lever with their fingers to send a ball rolling down the ramp toward the target ball on the floor.

But some players, like Vanessa, weren't able to use their hands to release the ball. Because she has cerebral palsy and very limited muscle control, Vanessa still required a lot of help from her parents to take part in the game.

To increase her independence when playing, our mechanical engineers designed a new bocce system that allows Vanessa to release the ball using the movement of her head. The device attaches to her wheelchair and has a switch that is placed near Vanessa's jaw. Using focus and control, Vanessa turns her head to the right to activate the switch, which connects to a lever that releases the ball down the ramp.

Vanessa's parents, Paolo and Nuria, say that it puts a smile on her face each time she succeeds.

"The importance of being able to participate in a bocce game with her peers is that it gives her a great sense of satisfaction," Paolo says. "It places her in a different environment, which gives a new meaning to her existence."

Her parents also point out that playing bocce ball is a great form of physical therapy for Vanessa. For example, releasing the ball uses a great deal of head, neck and eye control, they say.

Ryan Truant, who designed and built the Bocce Ball Releaser, says to make the perfect shot, Vanessa indicates to an attendant how to position the ramp, which sits on her lap, so that it's pointing in precisely the right direction. She can also determine the speed at which the ball travels, by having the attendant adjust the ramp's height.

"The problem before was that Vanessa couldn't keep her hand on the ball - it just would slip off," says Ryan. "Now, she has control over the ball and can decide where she wants to shoot it."


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