Some of the next items that could appear on the market to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities have been born at Penn State DuBois. This semester, students in both the occupational therapy assistant (OTA) program and the general engineering program worked together to design and build devices that people with physical limitations can use in their daily lives to complete common tasks.
OTA students identified needs that occupational therapy clients may have in their day to day lives, and determined ways devices might help them to complete certain tasks. The OTA students conveyed those needs to students in the engineering program, who then set to work designing and building the devices. During a recent exhibition of their projects on campus, the creations were on display and demonstrated. There were items to help people complete tasks including everything from opening bottles and setting alarm clocks to repositioning their television.
"It's hands-on, it's applying their knowledge to the physical, then seeing the projects working," said professor of engineering Daudi Waryoba. "Multidisciplinary projects teach the students right from the beginning that when you graduate and start a career, you will work in different areas and different industries. It teaches them to interact with people from different back grounds and learn how to meet their needs."
Academic fieldwork coordinator for the OTA program Amy Fatula said for her students, the project was an opportunity to harness their creativity. She said, "Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in the field do have to come up with concepts and be creative. We often come up with items to use right off the shelf, but sometimes you have to custom design something for a client. That's what they did here."
Engineering student Jesse Keith of Emeigh, Pa., worked on a device that would allow a student with low arm strength to lift their arm in class. It is designed to help them lift objects or even raise their hand to get the teachers attention. The patient's arm sits in a rest that is connected to a small motor, and controlled by a joy stick. When the person wishes to raise their arm, they just operate the stick to go up, or return it to the down position.
"After different concepts, we came up with this one. We had five concepts originally," Keith said, noting the lessons he learned on the design process.
OTA student Michelle Adams of Mayport, Pa., added, "It's a good learning process working with the engineering students. It will help us get a better concept of the equipment we can use or even make to suit our needs."
Waryoba said the next step in the project for some students is to seek out patents for their inventions.