Unique Student Collaboration Creates Helpful Devices for Clients Living With Disabilities

Philadelphia University occupational therapy and industrial design students have been collaborating this spring to create customized assistive devices that help meet the needs and dreams, both large and small, of individuals with daily living challenges.

This unique collaboration, which is in its 12th year, is believed to be the only such program in the country. An exhibit of the collaborative works will be on display Friday, April 1 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Kanbar Campus Center Performance Space.

“The value in this collaboration is the chance to work with real clients who have real needs,” said Wendy Krupnick, director of the Occupational Therapy program. “It helps students hone their OT skills, their evaluation skills and their understanding of client needs, and teaches both the OT and ID students how to collaborate, meet deadlines, set budgets, choose materials and work with client feedback.”

Friday’s presentation will include the OT/ID student teams, several clients, Krupnick and Mike Leonard, associate professor of Industrial Design, who helped establish the program.

The display will also showcase 24 of the student-designed assistive devices, ranging from the “Rotator Spork Set” for a 4 year old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy to a “Wheelchair Weather Shelter” for a 46-year-old woman born with spina bifida.

Each of the student projects met a specific need for their client, such as the “Perfect Sweep,” a modified walker that attaches to the vacuum cleaner to support the user while vacuuming. Students Ashley Hertlein and Josh Weiss developed the product for James, a 57-year-old man who struggled to help his wife with household chores due to chronic pain in his neck and back, affecting his ability to walk. The “Perfect Sweep” supports James’s weight, enabling him to safely maneuver the vacuum in his home while helping him conserve energy.

Other projects include, but are not limited to:

  • “Inverted Bicycle Pedals” — Nicholas, age 8, lives with a progressive condition that affects his skeletal muscles and makes him very weak. PhilaU students Rosie Piccirillo-Shaw and Robert Andrake designed “Inverted Bicycle Pedals,” which required less foot motion and strength than standard pedals, enabling Nicholas to keep pace with his peers.
  • “Portable Hands-Free Door Opener” — Anne, age 63, enjoys going out to eat at restaurants, but her multiple sclerosis makes it difficult for her to push open heavy public restroom doors. The “Portable Hands-Free Door Opener,” designed by PhilaU students Sarah Rice and Josh Weiss, allows Anne to access bathrooms independently while away from her home. The device is made with a tracking and pulley system to open and close doorways, yet is small enough to carry around.
  • “Adjustable Camera Stand” — The “Adjustable Camera Stand” helps avid photographer Bill, age 41, take photographs while in his wheelchair. The device attaches below the armrest so it does not impede the chair’s maneuverability, yet can be adjusted for three planes of movement and operated by remote. Bill lives with spinal muscle atrophy type III, a genetic disease that causes lack of motor function, muscle weakness and muscle atrophy.

To see and hear about the many other projects completed by this year’s Occupational Therapy and Industrial Design collaboration teams, go to the exhibit on Friday, April 1. For more information, please contact Anita Quain at ext. 2911 or by email at quaina@philau.edu.

Posted in University Headlines