Graduate Students Collaborated to Develop Garments Benefiting Children with Disabilities

Students in the M.S. in Occupational Therapy (OT) Program and the M.S. in Fashion Apparel Studies (FAS) Program worked in four teams during the fall semester to develop adaptive garments for children enrolled in the United Cerebral Palsy Preschool in Philadelphia.

Each group of students brought their unique skill sets to the project, with OT students acting as consultants to a hypothetical apparel manufacturer to aid in the design of new adaptive clothing.

The clients were five children, ages one through five, with specific, identified cognitive, sensory or motoric needs. Fashion apparel studies students were responsible for market research, designing, making the prototype and costing.

Mark Sunderland, assistant dean of the School of Design and Engineering, met with the FAS students to provide information regarding the special attributes of particular textiles to meet the individual needs of the young clients. The teams presented their prototypes on campus in December.

“This assignment helped two distinct student groups learn to collaborate and solve a unique problem,” said Cynthia Haynes, OTD, associate professor of OT. “All of the students increased their comfort level interacting with individuals from other disciplines through the sharing of new terminologies, implementing integrated problem solving and learning how to approach a challenge from a different perspective.”


For OT students Katherine Swan M’12 and Lindsay Reichard M’12, their client was a five-year-old boy with an incomplete spinal-cord injury due to a gunshot wound, who wears both a trunk orthotic and a leg orthotic and who uses a rolling walker. Their main challenge with their FAS counterparts, they agreed, was communicating from two different viewpoints.

“We focused on making a pant that was wearable, breathable and looked normal. He needed lots of pockets for candy and toys,” said Swan. “Our cushioned overalls allowed him to scoot around the floor and met the expectations of our client and his caregiver.”

“For all of us, learning how to work with disciplines so different from ours enhances collaboration and improves outcomes for clients,” noted Reichard. “It was a tremendous experience and one that is pretty unique for graduate students.” This project will be presented at the AOTA national conference in Philadelphia in 2011.

From the perspective of FAS students, the project provided the opportunity to assist individuals with disabilities. “Working on the FAS OT apparel project was just as valuable for us as it was for the students at United Cerebral Palsy Preschool,” noted Jennifer Hunsberger M’11. “We got to use our classroom learning to obtain real-world experience ― while helping improve the lives of others. The children we worked with at UCP now have clothing options that are better-attuned to their physical challenges.”

For Victoria Gray M’11, the project added a valuable dimension to the fashion apparel studies curriculum in a number of ways. “We were provided the opportunity to make a difference to someone in need while learning about team work and how to overcome challenges often faced by those working in the fashion industry today, she said. “All in all, the project was extremely rewarding and, although difficult at times, completing it gave everyone a great sense of achievement.”

According to Jerry Rosenau, professor emeritus and FAS coordinator, the project was a wonderful real-life experience for the graduate students. “It gave them the opportunity and the challenge to develop a garment for very specific and needy target market,” he said. “Consulting with OT graduate students emphasized the importance of collaboration and resulted in a positive outcome for all involved, most especially for the young clients who will benefit from a wonderful product.”

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