Students develop devices to make life easier for aging Americans

Albert transfers from his wheelchair to the mechanics creeper.
Albert LaBounty, who helped the student designers improve the mechanics creeper design, transfers from his wheelchair to the device. Also pictured is L J Wilde, one of the student inventors.

Students showcased two devices to help America’s aging population at the Assistive Technology Lab at Utah State University on February 22. The event coincided with Engineering Week at USU.

An earlier version of one of the devices, a wheelchair lift that helps a caretaker lift and stow a wheelchair into the trunk of a car, has a patent pending. The other device, the mechanics creeper, was developed to allow people to work under a car—even if they cannot use their legs.

Dr. Steve Hansen, a former deputy director of the Space Dynamics Lab and a research professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, mentored the students who worked on the projects. He sees some broad applications for both of them. The creeper could come in handy for just about any shop with a senior mechanic who would like to minimize the stress on his knees. The wheelchair lift would make life easier for a caretaker who can assist a person in a wheelchair, but who struggles with wrangling a 50-pound wheelchair in and out of the trunk.

Both projects used the facilities of the Assistive Technology Lab and drew from the expertise of its staff.

The wheelchair lift is an option that would help senior couples, said Amy Henningsen, an occupational therapist for the Utah Assistive Technology Program. Too often, if one of them is in a wheelchair, they end up staying home because dealing with the wheelchair is too inconvenient.

Albert LaBounty was the inspiration for the mechanics creeper. He lost the use of his legs 20 years ago, but he didn’t lose his passion for working on cars. He worked with the engineering students who designed the creeper, letting them know what would and would not work. “I asked them to make sure it’s low enough that I can get under the vehicle without jacking it up,” he said.

Read the rest of the story on the CPD website. Links to additional stories about these assitive technology projects, written by outside media, are on the right column of this newsletter.

CPD by the numbers

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, 155 Utah State University students received training in the Utah Assistive Technology Program's AT Lab. There, they created assistive devices, worked in the computer lab or gained other hands-on experience that will help them simplify the lives of people with disabilities.

Arts for all abilities

Ben Ballam
Ben Ballam

This article was written by Consumer Advisory Council member Ben Ballam. It appeared first on the CPD blog.

Some new opportunities are opening up in the Arts, for people with disabilities. There is  a movement to offer inclusive art and drama classes for people with disabilities.

 The famous Paper Mill Playhouse, located in New Jersey, now offers its first ever program for children with disabilities. This new class will include theater improvisation, storytelling, music, movement, and visual art. The series will “creatively address and include diverse learning styles and modes of communication.” It is part of the Theater For Everyone Program. Their director of Education said, “We want arts education to not merely be the icing on the cake of a child’s education, but really the baking soda that helps all kids grow and explore ways of communicating.”

Right here in Logan, Utah, we have some perfect examples of inclusive Arts Ed through the Utah Festival Conservatory for the Performing Arts and the Opera by Children Program. Shortly after it was started, I was one of the first kids to be in the program and write my own original opera, along with some of my elementary school classmates. When it was time to cast the show, I wanted to play the baker, which was a pretty big part, but I was worried that I couldn’t do it because I was in a wheelchair.  When I came home , I talked to my dad about it, who just happened to be the General Director of the Utah Festival Opera Company and their arts programs (Michael Ballam).  I asked him if he thought that a kid in a wheelchair could be a baker.  His response was, “Ben, did you know that a President of the United States, President Franklin D.Roosevelt, was in a wheelchair?  You can be anything that you want to be!” I played the baker!

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