Working together to aid others

| July 15, 2013

Sophomore engineering science students Kate Fanta (left) and Kiera Cavalleri demonstrate a vestibular therapy game designed for children with autism or other sensory input disorders at an occupational therapy clinic in Ilhéus, Brazil.

Throughout the spring semester, 21 Sweet Briar students collaborated with students at St. Ambrose University in Iowa to develop assistive tools for disabled workers in Lynchburg, Va., and Davenport, Iowa, as well as patients at an occupational therapy clinic in Ilhéus, Brazil. The projects were part of Technology and Society: A Global Perspective, a course taught jointly by Sweet Briar and St. Ambrose faculty.

The engineering class focuses on designing real-world solutions to problems, especially those facing developing societies — while accounting for any cultural, political and economic parameters. Working in teams over long distance, they designed and produced several low-cost assistive devices to address the clinic’s needs for treating patients with impairments ranging from autism to complete paralysis.

Sophomore engineering science majors Kate Fanta and Kiera Cavalleri and engineering program director Hank Yochum were part of a group from both schools who traveled to Brazil to test the new prototypes during a two-week visit in late May and early June. The projects included a vestibular therapy game designed for children with autism or other sensory input disorders, a transfer board to assist a quadruple amputee to use restroom facilities and an eye-blink communication device, among others.

For example, Cavalleri was part of the team that developed the vestibular therapy game, which aids visual focus and movement coordination in patients who experience symptoms related to inner-ear function. The cylindrical drum rotates on a clock mechanism donated at the team’s request by Harding’s Clocks and Music Boxes in nearby Amherst, Va. The colored shapes on the drum match identical markers on a wobble board, which the patient leans toward the corresponding shape as the cylinder turns.

Additionally, students from both schools designed work aids that help disabled employees in their respective communities to better perform assigned tasks and increase productivity. This was the second time the two programs collaborated to devise solutions for patients at the Brazil clinic. Sweet Briar engineering students also have previously worked with employees at Lynchburg Sheltered Industries to address challenges in their workplace.

Jennifer McManamay

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Category: Engineering Science