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Hand-in-Hand: Industrial Design and Occupational Therapy Students Work Together to Solve Patient Needs

hand-hand Projects ranged from an organizer for a child with autism, to a shampoo dispenser for a teenager with Down syndrome, to a meal prep station for a 58-year-old woman who can’t use her left arm.

In the oldest continuously running transdisciplinary project on Jefferson’s East Falls Campus, the 21st annual Assistive Technology Collaboration paired dozens of MS in occupational therapy and BS in industrial design students together to show their innovative designs to help clients with special needs.

The student teams identified areas of need, found spots where adaptive and assistive devices can make everyday tasks easier, and created prototypes for new devices.

“They’re working on real projects for real clients,” says Michael Leonard, an industrial designer and dean of the School of Design and Engineering. “They’re learning how to determine and answer human needs.”

Monique Chabot, assistant professor of occupational therapy, says working with the industrial design program allows her students to approach patient care in a different way.

“It isn’t black and white in design, and it’s not black and white in the field either,” she says. “For them, it’s an opportunity to understand there are multiple solutions to the same problem. It’s OK to take risks and try things out, but you always come back and improve upon it.”

As part of the presentations on April 12 in the Kanbar Performance Space, 29 teams showcased their work from this past semester. Projects ranged from an organizer for a child with autism, to a shampoo dispenser for a teenager with Down syndrome, to a meal prep station for a 58-year-old woman who can’t use her left arm.

Check out these three other collaborations in more detail:

IndeGo
Who:
Occupational therapy student Amanda Pirilli and industrial design student Zane Shalchi
What: The team created a urinal, called IndeGo, for their 48-year-old client Jill. She has the genetic condition facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair full-time.
Why: ADA-accessible bathrooms are too low for Jill to use without assistance, and she physically can’t use non-accessible public restrooms or bathrooms in most private homes. Commercially available female urinals require the user to hover several inches above her seat, scoot forward and stabilize herself at the edge of her seat, or firmly hold the urinal in a specific position—all difficult tasks for Jill.
Solution: Their polyethylene vessel’s low height allows for use while seated in a wheelchair and shifting weight to the side. IndeGo also features lipped walls to prevent spillage and an easy-to-dispense nozzle.
The Experience: “Amanda really brought the emotion to it,” Shalchi shares. “She helped me understand Jill’s perspective.”

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Easy Tie
Who:
Occupational therapy student Jenna Salem and industrial design student Yuhan Zhang
What: Easy Tie helps 24-year-old Kendra tie her shoes. At age 13, she suffered a stroke that resulted in muscle weakness in her left arm and fingers.
Why: Kendra only can use her right hand and struggles with activities that require both hands, such as tying her shoes and putting her hair up. Her family usually helps with these activities, but she wants more independence. Kendra has tried other products and methods for one-handed tying, such as pre-laced shoes and rubber laces; however, she didn’t like the look of either.
Solution: The Easy Tie’s lace holder extends and mimics the function of a hand while tying laces. By sliding the holder left and right, the device can create a perfect knot in the center of the shoe. The lace holder can fold into the base, so after use, the Easy Tie can be put away in a pocket or purse for easy transportation.
The Experience: Working with a real client rather than a hypothetical situation made the project special, Salem says. “It motivated us to want to find a solution more.”

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The Stabilizing Sleeve
Who:
Occupational student Amanda Shea and industrial design students Gaige DeHaven and Kelly Sullivan
What: Due to sensory processing disorder and a severe fine motor delay, 6-year-old Jacob has difficulties holding a pencil. This sleeve accommodates his low-grip strength and stabilizes his wrist while writing.
Why: Jacob generally uses a slant board in school to help with writing, but he wanted another device that provides the same wrist-stabilizing effect. Also, he has an easier time writing when his hand remains in a slightly extended and stabilized position.
Solution: The sleeve can be easily adjusted and removed. Jacob enjoys playing with Nerf guns, so the students created a colorful aesthetic geared toward his interests.
The Experience: Sullivan participated in this collaboration for the third time. “This project helps me to grow as an industrial designer,” she says. “I can learn the skills needed to solve a specific problem and use that as reference for later.”