Adam Bleakney is a research affiliate at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, or DRES, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

He has served as the head coach of the University of Illinois wheelchair track and road racing team since 2005. In that time, his athletes have won 55 medals across four paralympic games while setting 14 world records on the track, and have won the Boston Marathon, London Marathon, Chicago Marathon, and New York City Marathon. In recognition of such performances, he has been named the USOC U.S. Paralympic Coach of the Year on three occasions.

Bleakney conducts research related to assistive technology and devices for individuals with disabilities as well as research related to human performance, specifically for athletes with disabilities. In 2017, he established the UIUC Human Performance and Mobility Maker Lab, an interdisciplinary lab where students with and without disabilities collaborate to design and develop assistive technology. As director of the HPML, Bleakney is faculty in the School of Art + Design at UIUC. He also co-directs the (dis)Ability Design Studio at the Beckman Institute, which supports interdisciplinary design research centered around the lived experiences of people with disabilities.

He has also consulted with BMW, Toyota, Bridgestone Americas, and several Champaign-based start-ups in advancing racing wheelchair and other accessible technology research and development initiatives.

Education

  • M.S., print journalism, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2002
  • B.A., English literature, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000

Honors

  • 2019: Chancellor's Academic Professional Excellence Award
  • 2016: USPOC U.S. Paralympic Coach of the Year
  • 2015: USOPC Doc Counsilman Science Award
  • 2015: USPOC U.S. Paralympic Coach of the Year
  • 2009: Alexis Wernsing Innovation Award
  • 2007: USPOC U.S. Paralympic Coach of the Year

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“The impetus for pulling this team together was to leverage the expertise on campus to increase access to spaces and experiences that daily wheelchair users like me are often marginalized from. Standard ultra-light, manual wheelchairs are no doubt outstanding in many respects and provide an increased level of independence during daily life. At the same time, the act of pushing a manual wheelchair prevents the hands from engaging in other more meaningful activities while moving – such as holding hands with a loved one on a walk, carrying a cup of coffee, holding a toddler while moving around the house. Each of these is possible with PURE."

- Hands-free wheelchair prototype achieves major milestone

“The development of PURE has been guided by our immutables – that it be lightweight and maintain a small footprint. We want to ensure that the current independence of manual wheelchair users would in no way be limited by PURE. If we were to develop a hands-free device that was so heavy that it prevented users from easily transferring it into and out of their vehicle, or if it was so large that it wouldn’t maneuver around typical living spaces, we would have missed the mark. Any device that compromises current levels of independence just won’t be used during daily life."

- Hands-free wheelchair prototype achieves major milestone

“Creating an intentionally immersive environment of disability is impactful for all involved. It drives research and innovation that’s closely connected to the disability experience."

- Beckman, DRES collaboration launches (dis)Ability Design Studio

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