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Rescuing the Black-Footed Ferret

"Muscle-Wrap" Heart Surgery

Sailing Therapy
in the classroom

SHOW 305: Sailing Therapy

For many victims of accidents and disease, performing the most routine aspects of everyday life requires enormous effort. As you see on FRONTIERS, a group of French doctors finds that sailing yields unexpected physical and psychological benefits for their patients. Out on a sailboat, where patients have to think quickly, work together, use their muscles, concentrate and learn to work cooperatively, rehabilitation can happen almost without the patient realizing it.

Curriculum Links
Activity: Design a Helpful Product



group interaction,
emotions and

vectors and forces



Understandably, people with special needs can sometimes find the most routine aspects of everyday life extremely difficult. The operations many of us take for granted can be especially challenging to certain people, such as someone who is hearing-impaired or the victim of a serious accident. Technology can help by creating devices and appliances to assist with a particular task.

To a person struggling with a physical problem, a creative device can make all the difference. For example, an elderly person who cannot see under the bed to find a pair of slippers might be assisted by an under-the-bed periscope; an extending arm could help retrieve the missing item. Or, a person who has severe arthritis or a muscular problem might benefit by a device that helps guide a key into the keyhole.

All it takes to invent is your imagination, a pencil and paper. When designing and evaluating products, ask yourself:
  • Who would benefit from this device?

  • How would the device help the person?

  • Is the device simple to use?

  • Would the device be expensive to manufacture?

  • Consider people with hearing, visual or speech impairments, aged or disabled people, and people with different levels of physical strength and size.

  1. Write down the name and purpose of your invention.

  2. Sketch it from three perspectives:
    • from the top looking down
    • from the front
    • from the side.

  3. If you have the time and tools to build your invention, try it! Or, you might create an advertisement that lets people know about your product.

Remember, your design invention should be simple and useful -- something that will help a person with special needs, not make life more complicated.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.