“Water is the most inclusive medium” says One-Arm Freedom canoe paddle inventor, Cindy Dillenschneider. A long-time believer in making the outdoors accessible to everyone, Cindy committed herself to developing an adaptive canoe paddle for those with upper limb impairments.
One-Arm Freedom canoeist with his two sons in the Boundary Waters (photo courtesy of Scott Stowell Writing Outfitter.com)
Cindy and her husband, Jason Maloney, own Dillenschneider Designs LLC, a Wisconsin veteran-owned business that makes and sells the One-Arm Freedom canoe paddle, the only paddle on the market that allows a canoeist to paddle independently with one arm.
How One-Arm Freedom Canoe Paddle Gives Adaptive Paddlers Independence
The One-Arm Freedom canoe paddle is a brilliant design that can be used by either tandem or solo canoeists. Watch this video for an overview of the paddle, its mechanisms and how it works:
The One-Arm Freedom paddle is length adjustable with locking mechanisms both above and below the elbow. This enables you to adjust to the length of your arm and torso. It’s for both right and left handed paddlers.
The shoulder saddle comes in two pieces. The bottom piece attaches to the shoulder of your PFD with velcro straps. The top piece attaches to the bottom piece of the saddle with bungee cords, enabling hands-free when you’re getting in and out of the canoe and doing other necessary motions.
(NOTE: The One-Arm Freedom is not designed for use with an inflatable PFD.)
The paddle features an emergency escape mechanism for easy release. It comes in two pieces that make storing and traveling easy.
You can find several more videos on the One-Arm Freedom’s website, including ones with skills demonstrations for beginning and advanced canoeists.
One-Arm Freedom’s Backstory
Cindy’s exposure to working in the outdoors with people with disabilities began early in her life. As a teenage swimming instructor, she volunteered to teach swimming lessons to students with disabilities.
“It was a profound opportunity. It helped me feel like I could make a positive difference in the world, that everyone should have the same opportunities in life. To enjoy whatever activities and environments they wanted to. So I felt compelled to continue to find ways to do that as I grew.”
Dan Aldrich uses the One-Arm Freedom paddle while canoeing the Colorado River through the Black Canyon: “Trip was amazing and paddle worked spectacularly!!!! Compared to last year, we had a huge head wind on our second day and there is absolutely no way I could have done it without the paddle.” (photo courtesy of Dan Aldrich)
As a college student in the late 70s, Cindy started to develop programs that would help get people with disabilities into the outdoors—programs that were rare at the time. She had gone through an Outward Bound course that had produced huge positive effects in her own life, and she wanted to help others find that, too, no matter their ability.
Cindy interned with a couple programs in the US, including Environmental Traveling Companions of California. Helping a man with high-level quadriplegia go whitewater rafting through this organization was another reinforcing experience for her. This man told her a few years later that his rafting trip was the only time in his adult life he’d been able to breathe freely, without his respirator, due to the movement of the raft on the water. She said:
“To take people into the wilderness, to experience the natural environment that was such a healing and transformative place for me was wonderful. People [with disabilities] were typically excluded, not by intentional design but absence of design. Sometimes it took a change of attitude about who’s welcome and should be able to go…
“But there’s also the equipment side. What equipment makes it possible for a person to be as independent as they’re capable of, under their own terms, and under their own power enter the wilderness and outdoor experiences? Not going in to pave the wilderness, but going in to experience it on its own terms.”
Cindy’s desire to get as many people in the outdoors as possible, including those with disabilities, shaped her career path as an outdoor educator.
Joyal DiRusso uses the One-Arm Freedom paddle on this tandem outrigger canoe in Washington: “As an amputee, I'm used to modifying various things to assist in my daily life. They don't always look pretty, but most often, they help get the job done. Being able to purchase something that has both function and aesthetic is a treat. Thank you for the work you have done to help individuals like myself get back to doing activities we love.” (photo courtesy of Joyal DiRusso)
Enter One-Arm Freedom Canoe Paddle for Adaptive Paddling
It was in 2005-06 while on sabbatical that Cindy started to develop the idea of an adaptive canoe paddle. Adaptive seating for canoes and kayaks were being developed for those with mobility impairments. She says,
“We talked about water as the most inclusive medium. If we can get someone out of their wheelchair and seated properly in a kayak or canoe, all the sudden they’re mobility is the same as everybody else. Put a paddle in their hands and they can just go. And yet I realized there’s this gap we’re not filling, and that’s for people with upper limb impairments…There had to be a way to make inroads to make equipment more inclusive.”
She knew any paddle developed had to be universally designed for use with both right and left hands, and by people with all torso and arm lengths. She had spent some time looking at various ways plastics and carbon fiber were being used for prosthetic limbs. Her sabbatical allowed her the time to develop a prototype which she then took to Canoecopia in 2010.
Cindy shared that “One of the journalists there saw it and he took me around to every manufacturer that was represented at Canoecopia and introduced me. And I got a chance to meet [Bending Branches president] Ed Vater. I visited the plant in Osceola. Ed was very receptive to helping us out, and since then we’ve worked entirely with Bending Branches to make this paddle available and accessible to people who have limb impairments.”
Cindy with husband, Jason, and their Australian shepherd, Red (photo courtesy of Cindy Dillenschneider)
Bending Branches is a Proud Partner
The One-Arm Freedom is a highly-specialized paddle that requires an understanding of several different areas including disability, risk management, the human body and the product itself.
It definitely required a team approach for this paddle to happen. While they have other very important contributors, Cindy emphasized, “Without Bending Branches there wouldn’t be a paddle.”
Cindy sources all her paddle components through Branches. The team here works with her to understand our own processes, taking her through the shop, usually annually.
“On an ongoing basis, Bending Branches has been irreplaceable, I think. They’ve been so helpful, so receptive, so supportive. I can’t imagine seeing that from any other company, to be honest.”
Cindy is also grateful for the role Wisconsin’s Northland College has played. She taught outdoor education there for many years, which included expanding her students’ awareness of inclusion and encouraging them to think of ways to advance the profession. “Some of the ideas that exist within this paddle evolved from students.”
“None of us could’ve succeeded alone. That’s the neat thing about this!” concluded Cindy.
To learn more about the One-Arm Freedom canoe paddle you can visit and order from the website.
Let us help you find your next canoe paddle! Get in touch with our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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