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Engineering Students Build Device for Child With Disability

AbbieAbbie is a kindergarten student who suffers from cerebral palsy, which makes muscle coordination and reflexes difficult for her. But a team of engineering students from LMU developed a device to help her use her iPad more efficiently, perhaps pointing the way toward other inventions that could help children like her.

The device is part of a yearlong, senior capstone project for students in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. Eight mechanical engineers in two teams are designing and building products to help disabled children function more independently. The project culminated in submission of the designs to the annual Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology of North America’s student competition, where the team placed third in June.

“Both teams have solid designs and a good understanding of the design process,” said Matt Siniawski, mechanical engineering professor and the students’ faculty adviser. “This project lets the students use their education to help benefit someone else’s life, and it opens their eyes to different parts of engineering.”

Each of the two teams is paired with one student from WISH Charter Elementary School, a member of LMU’s Family of Schools. The teams met with the student, the student’s mother, the principal and caretakers to brainstorm ideas for an apparatus that would best suit the student’s needs.

One team worked with Jack, a fifth-grader at risk of developing problems with his Achilles tendon because he uses a wheelchair. The students built Jack a bicycle-like attachment that will move his legs around and prevent shortening of the tendon.

Team Abbie developed what they’re calling the iPad Dexterity Enhancement Apparatus, which connects her wrist and forearm to a brace that restricts the range of motion in her hand. It’s helped her use the iPad more easily in class.

“I.D.E.A. will improve the accuracy and precision of Abbie’s fine motor skills without inhibiting her comfort,” said Amy Clancy ’13, a mechanical engineering student when the device was developed. “We hope it improves her confidence and helps her to perform basic functions more easily.”