Winter Quarter 2014

 Perspectives in Assistive Technology 

David L. Jaffe, MS and Professor Drew Nelson
Tuesdays & Thursdays   4:15pm - 5:30pm
Thornton Center - Classroom 110

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Candidate Team Projects - 2014

Unless otherwise noted, these are suitable team projects.

Projects suggested this year:

Projects suggested last year:

Projects suggested in past years:

Other projects:

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Project title

This project is suitable as an individual rather than a team project.




Design Criteria:



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Accessible Stroller for a Wheelchair-Using Parent

Problem: Parents who are wheelchair users have many challenges with the care of their newborns and infants. In particular, there are difficulties transporting the child as a traditional stroller would be difficult to manage for a wheelchair user.

Aim: Explore design concepts for an accessible stroller or a device that would offer similar features.

Design criteria: The design should:

  • provide a safe environment for the child
  • be easy for the parent to independently attach and detach a device to his/her wheelchair while in the wheelchair
  • employ mechanisms that are easy to use by a parent with limited hand dexterity and inoperable by the child
  • provide good forward visibility
  • accommodate the child as he/she grows
  • be adaptable to both manual and power wheelchairs


Cursum Wheelchair Adaptive Stroller (with video 2:59)
Newborn Carrier
Wheelchair stroller and accessible crib (video - start at 1:45)

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Wheelchair Adaptor for the ROTA Mobility RoWheel

Background: The RoWheel is a self-contained level drive system that can be retrofitted to an existing manual wheelchair, effectively transforming it into a lever-drive wheelchair with 8 gears, steering, braking, and reverse.

Problem: Commercial manual wheelchairs vary greatly in design and construction, making it impossible to design the RoWheel to attach to all of them.

Aim: Explore designs for a mechanical adaptor to attach / detach the RoWheel to / from most any make or model of rigid framed wheelchair. (Although a adaptor that is able to work with every manual wheelchair is probably an unobtainable goal, a design that could address 70% of the market with a single mechanism or a set of three different kits is more reasonable. Exceptions can be made for very small chairs for children or highly specialized chairs for individuals with severe disabilities, etc.)

Design Criteria: The design should be:

  • Safe and durable
  • Quick and easy to use, considering the rider's limitations
  • Lightweight and inexpensive
  • Easy to install, attach, and disconnect
  • Consider the expected mechanical stresses at the points of attachment

Other: ROTA will provide an existing model RoWheel and a wheelchair, both of which must be returned upon completion of the project. ROTA has machine shop capabilities for fabricating adaptor parts from drawings and specifications.

ROTA Mobility
Photo of RoWheel on a manual wheelchair

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Balance Buddy & Moxie Mobile

Background: The Balance Buddy project has been suggested by Sidekicks Ventures LLC, which is developing a new line of home assistive products for older adults while the Moxie Mobile project has been suggested by Aditazz, Inc, a technology-driven architecture firm focused on empowering patients through patient-centered spaces and patient-center product design.

Problem: (From Sidekicks Ventures) Falls are the single largest health risk for older adults who live independently. They often have balance problems requiring an unobtrusive but reliable device for helping them maintain their balance and footing as they move around their homes.

When older adults begin to have balance problems, typically between the age of 70 and 85, they often use canes or walkers to maintain their balance and footing. Current commercial products can be extremely cumbersome to use in the home. Canes are difficult because they can be clumsy, topple over frequently, get in the way creating tripping hazards, and offer limited help for moving easily around small spaces. Walkers, although they provide steadier and more reliable help, are problematic because they are large and difficult to maneuver in small spaces and are also relatively ineffective on stairs. Both canes and walkers have the additional problem that they often require one or two hands to hold them, which leaves the user with a limited ability to use his or her hands for tasks in their home. This problem is compounded when the user needs to carry objects around a room or from one room to another.

(From Aditazz) Within the Skilled Nursing Facility, patient falls represent a major source of acute trauma and related, avoidable, healthcare expenditures. While assistive mobility products, such as canes and walkers, do a good job of preventing falls once properly engaged by the patient, there exists a significant hurdle to device engagement - which either motivates avoidance of these devices or contributes to falls that occur during the process of device engagement. Regardless of the pathway to falling, device ease-of-engagement remains an un-addressed design requirement for current assistive mobility products.

Aim: (From Sidekicks Ventures) The project goal is to explore design concepts for an easily managed device to help older adults who are having balance problems in their homes.

(From Aditazz) The solution(s) to be explored should propose a new mobility assistive device (or family of devices) which is not only easy to engage but also encourages use.

Design Criteria: The device should:

  1. provide reliable balance help for people who are unsteady on their feet;
  2. be able to be set aside without falling or moving;
  3. be light-weight and extremely easy to maneuver;
  4. be used with just one hand, freeing hands to the greatest extent possible for necessary tasks around the home;
  5. allow the user to carry objects (such as food) while moving around;
  6. make the user feel more confident and comfortable in their home compared to current commercially available canes or walkers;
  7. be easy to get into and out of;
  8. provide stability while getting out of a bed, a chair, or off the toilet;
  9. encourage its use.

Future Plans: The design needs to be lightweight and relatively affordable to manufacture. It can employ commercially available components or be an original design. Eventually the device will feature an industrial design compatible with a broader line of home assistive products, but for this project, the goal is to develop and test a functional prototype for a new type of balance aid. As mentioned above, it needs to roll or stand independently so that it doesn’t fall, or, alternatively, be able to moved nearby where it can remain easily accessible but not in the way of activity.

Other: The project suggestor is available to facilitate user testing.


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Projects suggested by Berke Prosthetics / Orthotics

Amputee triathlon biking cleat system

Aim: Design a cleat / pedal system that will allow use of a running prosthesis during the bike portion of a triathlon. This will allow for faster and safer transitioning from the bike to the run portion and eliminates the need for a sport-specific prosthesis. The cleat system must be easily attached and detached from the running prosthesis to allow running without interference. The pedal system must be stable enough to allow standing up while cycling, but allow adequate degrees of freedom to transition from sit to stand.

Prosthesis bike mount for improved pedal power

Aim: Design a socket and its attachment to a road bike that will allow a para-triathlete with a congenital deficiency to anchor his residual limb to the bike during single-leg cycling. The socket must allow for easy donning and doffing to transition into and out of the bike as quickly as possible during a triathlon competition. The attachment must be stable enough while allowing some degrees of freedom should the cyclist wish to change positions from sit to stand on the bike.

External Achilles tendon replacement

Aim: Design an external replacement for an Achilles tendon in a patient that cannot be surgically repaired. This project has many nuances: it needs to allow for eccentric contraction as well as push off.


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3D Printing of Tactile Graphics / Objects for Teaching Blind Students

Background: Benetech builds technology to serve humanity. We operate Bookshare, the world’s largest accessible library.

3D printing has made huge advances in our ability to quickly fabricate physical prototypes from ideas. 3D printing manufacturers have recently called for "a 3D printer for every classroom in America". Tactile graphics and other accessible 3D printed objects can be great teaching tools for students, especially those with visual impairments.

Problem: To date, there is no large collection or central repository of accessible 3D printed educational tools or tactile graphics serving students with visual impairments.

Aim: Design and document the foundations of an online collaborative accessible database library of physical learning tools, 3D printable objects, and tactile graphics for use in education.

Design Criteria: Select and create 3D models of objects and tactile graphics to seed this library, taking into account their educational efficacy and defining guidelines for maximum interpretability. Also identify commercially available physical objects that could be used in an educational setting for students with visual impairments.

The solution should follow the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and Common Core standards as guidelines for the learning concepts that should be emphasized.

Publish the resulting database of web links and 3D printed objects with embedded accessible metadata so they can be searched for and found on the Internet by visually impaired users and their teachers.


Background on Tactile Graphics
Example Tactile Graphics on Thingieverse
3D-printing tactile graphics
Parabola Manipulative
STEM Touch Graphics
Project to print braille in SCAD
Information on Accessible Metadata

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Projects employing inexpensive voice-recognition technology

Background: Thirty years ago, voice recognition systems were in their infancy. A typical system cost $3000 and required considerable user training to recognize just a few words. Today, the cost of these devices has fallen sharply while the performance has improved greatly.

Aim: Explore an application for a person with a disability using an inexpensive voice recognition product. Examples include enhanced computer control and accessibility for those with limited manipulation abilities, control of household appliances (lights, TV, music system), and operation of a hospital bed.

Design Criteria: The device should be appropriate for the user's abilities and be simple to configure and use.


EasyVR Shield
Voice Recognition Module
Speech Recognition with Arduino

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Pooper scooper for canine companions of wheelchair users

Problem: Wheelchair users who walk their dogs need to clean up after them. Limited hand / arm strength and reduced mobility can affect the dog owner's ability to successfully perform both the collection and bagging portions of this task.

Aim: Explore designs for a pooper scooper system that will be easy for pet owners with a disability to use.

Design Criteria: The improved scooper design can employ commercially available components, but must be simple in design, lightweight, convenient to store on the wheelchair, easy to use by pet owners with limited hand / arm movement, and inexpensive to fabricate.



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Creative Expression

Background: Most everyone has a need and desire to be creative through activities such as writing, painting, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, quilting, photography, singing, dancing, and music.

Problem: Existing tools supporting creativity are often lacking for people with disabilities. Movement difficulties often prevent an individual from fully participating in their chosen activity.

Aim: Explore ways to enhance creative expression for people with disabilities. This could include the creation of new activities or fabrication of new tools.


  • Convert the user's existing assistive technology device into a creative "paintbrush"
  • Use non-traditional inputs such as residual movements or brain waves


Chris Chafe - Director of CCRMA

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Designing Your Afterlife

Background: Death is the most severe form of disability. One is no longer able interact with people or physical objects in the world. What remains are only static artifacts - images, writings, and the recollections of others. Gone are one's personality, beliefs, expertise, humor, vision, memories, insights, and intellect.

Problem: With one's death, it is impossible to provide a full and accurate representation of who they were, what they believed in, and how they acted. The recollections of others fade and disappear with time, leaving the departed one's legacy at the mercy of the living.

Aim: Explore ways to preserve one's essence after death. This might manifest itself as a first-person interactive system that responds to queries, retells stories, relates experiences, shares expertise, and expresses humor. The pre-dead user would be able to create and program his / her eternal persona before her / his demise.



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Project employing the Microsoft Kinect Controller

Background: Kinect is a 3D motion sensing input device designed for the Xbox 360 video game console and Windows PCs. It enables users to control and interact with computers wirelessly and hands-free, through a natural user interface using full body gestures and spoken commands.

Aim: Explore an application for a person with a disability using the Kinect Controller product. Examples include enhanced computer control and accessibility for those with limited manipulation abilities, physical therapy coach, control of household appliances (lights, TV, music system), operation of Bluetooth devices (iPhone), and implementation of an on-screen keyboard.

Design Criteria: The device should be appropriate for the user's abilities and be simple to configure and use.


Kinect for Xbox 360
Gesture-Based Design Engineering ( with video 3:27)

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Wheelchair backup alert

Background: A few veterans with spinal cord injury at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System use power wheelchairs with head array controllers. (Head array controllers allow an individual without hand or arm function to drive their wheelchairs using their head position.)

Problem: Individuals who use a head array controlled wheelchair often do not have a sufficient range of neck motion to check for obstacles behind their wheelchair while backing up. The array controller itself may obstruct their view to the rear. These situations create a potential safety hazard as the user could unintentionally collide with objects or people.

Aim: Explore mechanical or electronic designs to provide rearward visibility and warning while backing up.

Design Criteria: The solution should not involve drilling into the wheelchair frame or modifying its controller.


Permobil C300 wheelchair

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Project employing the Leap Motion Controller

Background: The Leap Motion Controller senses and tracks the movement of hands and fingers in 3D: pointing, waving, reaching, and grabbing. Advertised applications for this USB device include control of a computer to: browse the web, read articles, flip through photos, play music, draw, paint, design, play video games, and create music.

Aim: Explore an application for a person with a disability using the Leap Motion Controller product. Examples include enhanced computer control and accessibility for those with limited manipulation abilities, physical therapy coach, control of household appliances (lights, TV, music system), operation of Bluetooth devices (iPhone), and implementation of an on-screen keyboard.

Design Criteria: The device should be appropriate for the user's abilities and be simple to configure and use.


Leap Motion
Helping People with Disability and Parkinsons Disease (video 5:00 in Spanish)
Tiny Device, Huge Potential: How Leap Motion Will Change Computing
Using the Leap Motion to enhance software accessibility
Leap Motion forums
Gesture-Based Design Engineering (with video 3:27)

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Microphone Comfort and Appearance Project

This project is suitable as an individual rather than a team project.

Background: Many veterans with ALS rely on small lightweight voice amplifiers to allay voice fatigue and help them be heard in more demanding speaking situations. These units typically consist of a microphone worn near the mouth and a companion amplifier / speaker.

Problem: Current microphones are uncomfortable to wear for long periods, lack adjustability, often get out of position, are not discreet, and do not look appealing.

Aim: Explore designs that address comfort, adjustability, positioning, and appearance issues.

Design Criteria:


Luminaud microphones and supports

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Handbike Leg Positioning Project

Background: The Top End Force RX is a handbike used by lower extremity amputees and individuals with spinal cord injury. While cycling, the user's legs are only supported at the foot and due to the extreme recumbent seating position, the legs are nearly horizontal.

Problem: To keep the cyclist's knees flexed to prevent hyperextension, the therapist often has to add foam under the upper thigh. In addition, the cyclist's legs can contact the rotating wheel when steering, causing injury and skin breakdown.

Aim: Explore designs to prevent this knee hyperextension as well as protect the leg from contact with the bike's wheel.

Design Criteria: The design should not damage the handbike - no holes can be drilled into the frame.


Invacare Top End Force RX Handcycle
Force G Parts Book
Amputee Leg Support accessory
Leg Guard accessory

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Enhanced bed control for veterans with spinal cord injury

Background: Veterans with spinal cord injury at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System use electric beds equipped with a pendant that controls their operation: head up/down, bed up/down, and foot up/down.

Problem: The buttons on the controller are difficult to activate as they are concave and require considerable pressure.

Aim: Explore solutions that would enable veterans to more easily operate their beds, including voice activation.

Design Criteria: Solutions could consist of a replacement bed control pendant or an overlay to the existing pendant.


Bed manufacturer

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Enhanced access to voting

Enhanced access to mailed paper ballots

Background: Many individuals find it convenient to have their voting ballots mailed to them. Doing so solves problems related to travelling to polling places, negotiating physically inaccessible polling places, and difficulties using the traditional card-punch ballots or electronic voting systems.

Problem: Voters with fine motor control problems may find it difficult to mark their paper ballots. This often requires the voter to indicate his / her choice by accurately drawing a line between two points on the ballot.

Aim: Explore mechanisms to aid these voters to make their selection with paper ballots.

Design Criteria: The solution should not mangle, cut, or otherwise damage the ballot. It should be able to be used independently by the voter.


Enhanced access to online voting

Background: Many individuals find it convenient to prepare their vote-by-mail ballot online as it allows for the use of electronic accessibility tools. Doing so solves problems related to travelling to polling places, negotiating physically inaccessible polling places, and difficulties using the traditional card-punch ballots.

Problem: The voter has to print the marked up vote-by-mail ballot, print or address the envelope, sign the ballot, and get everything into the envelope. These tasks greatly reduce the value of online ballot marking, since many require assistance to complete the process.

Aim: Figuring out how to resolve these problems would be a valuable contribution to the emerging accommodation of online ballot marking.


Enhanced access to paper ballots

Problem: Due to reading disabilities, difficulty in sequencing tasks, or short term memory problems, many voters who use a paper ballot:

  1. become disorganized reading through a long ballot,
  2. have difficulty lining up ballot elements,
  3. have difficulty completing all the steps subsequent to filling out the ballot, and
  4. have difficulty transcribing their voting choices from their sample ballot.

Aim: Explore solutions to help these voters:

  1. keep track of what items they have completed and what items remains
  2. line up ballot elements
  3. sequence through all paper ballot voting steps including folding the ballot, inserting it into the envelope, signing the envelope, and putting postage on it
  4. transcribe their choices from their sample ballot

Fifty Ideas for More Accessible Elections
How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone?
MSU Engineering Students Help Advance a Joystick for Voting Independently

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Enhanced access to touch screen devices

Background: Touch screen devices - tablets, phones, kiosks, and computers - are becoming increasingly popular in everyday life, from personally-owned devices to those found in stores and polling places.

Problem: Many people with limited hand control have trouble getting their touch screen device to accept their 'tap' or interpret their gestures correctly. Sometimes the problem is caused by dry hands or fingers, but more often it's related to a user's mild fine motor problems. In one situation, this issue causes them to unintentionally slide their finger across the screen when they desire to tap, resulting in the touch screen device misreading this action as a swipe. Or they may inadvertently hold their finger on the selection too long, leading to misinterpretation as a precursor to selecting or copying a block of text.

Aim: Explore ideas that would enable users to make their selections more accurately on their personal touch screen devices.

Design Criteria: The solution should be an external adapter that can be used with an unmodified touch screen device. Light weight, low cost, and compact size are key features.


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Magical Bridge Playground Project

Background: Magical Bridge is building the nation's first fully accessible and socially inclusive playground designed specifically for children with disabilities as well as children of parents who have a disability.

The City of Palo Alto has designated 1.3 acres of underutilized public land in Mitchell Park, located at 600 East Meadow Drive in Palo Alto, for the site of the Magical Bridge Playground. The playground will be adjacent to Abilities United and close to the soon-to-be-built Mitchell Park Library.

Problem: Although most of the park's design has been drafted, some aspects of the play areas could be modified for better access. Replacement play areas are sought to update the park with fresh attractions every few years.

Aim: Explore designs to address the following issues, creating a safe, fun, accessible, and inclusive park serving all children and their parents.

  1. to enable a child using a wheelchair to move between levels in the two-story playhouse

  2. to speed up the flow of kids on the slide:

    1. design an attachment to accommodate kids who can't get off the slide quickly or
    2. explore ways to permit parents to assist their kids at both the top and bottom of the slide

  3. to provide an easy way for parents to get kids into/out of a swing safety seat

  4. to offer a new and innovative play and educational experience incorporating multiple senses, actions, and outcomes that is inclusive for kids with a disability

Design Criteria: Designs should be safe for everyone.

Other Information: Students will build and test a scaled prototype of their design.

Magical Bridge Playground
CreARTE: Art through the Fingertips
Children Power Playground Toys
Fingerspelling Alphabet
Melo Sense Autism Sensory Wall
Interactive Music Technology Shows Promise in Healthcare
The Rotary Club of San Jose is building a 4.1-acre play area that will be accessible to all, regardless of age or abilities
Rotary Playground
Treequencer - photos - video

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Guide Robot for the Blind

Background: Intellisight is developing a system for guiding people who are blind and visually impaired along a clear path. The design uses Lidar-type radar to sense the presence of obstacles or other terrain features and warn the user.

Problem: Current orientation and mobility solutions for individuals with visual impairments or blindness include the Long Cane, guide dogs, Mowat Sensor, Trekker, and Mini Guide. While they provide basic information suitable for getting around, they do not provide much detail about the nearby environment.

A guide robot is under construction that will provide a blind traveler with information beyond what is available with current solutions. Intellisight is tackling the following portions of the project: wheels, motors, motor controllers, power system, sensor array, and computer hardware and software systems.

The completed prototype will be able to detect a clear path and provide object avoidance information as well as detailed information about the local environment. It will be able to scan the interior of a building to determine its room layout and employ GPS information.

Aim: Build a user-interface that facilitates the communication between the robot and the user as well as the platform that supports the motorized computerized robot device.

User-Interface Design Criteria:
  • Employ a telescoping handle that is able to support the entire weight of the robot
  • Provide a tactile interface to the user
  • Include a power switch
Platform Design Criteria:
  • Accommodate the selected motors, motor controllers, and computer system
  • Consist of lightweight material
  • Have an adjustable height
Intellisight - Autonomous Travel for the Blind
Long Cane
Mowat Sensor - photo
Mini Guide
Orientation and Mobility Training: The Way to Go
Blind Aid Project Mid-Presentation

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Projects suggested by Aman Kumar

1. Retinal Detachment

Aim: Design a prototype device or app for communicating and visualizing the symptoms of retinal detachment

2. Stutterers

Aim: Design a prototype device or app that addresses one of these problems experienced by stutterers:
  • assist health care professionals in assessing the effects of therapy

  • provide audio feedback of stutterers speech and video feedback of muscle disruptions that accompany stuttering

  • connect health care professionals with stutterers living in rural areas to provide care and therapy

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Walker for Stroke Survivors

Background: Individuals who have experienced a stroke frequently have a weakness on one side of their body that affects their walking and balance. Canes and walkers are often used to improve their walking confidence and prevent falls.

Problem: Having a weakness on one side of the body makes moving and steering a standard walker or a wheelchair used as a walker difficult. It will often veer off course and may be hard to push and maneuver, especially through doorways, up and down ramps, and in confined spaces such as bathrooms, office cubicles, and narrow areas in parking lots. The stability of these devices is lacking when going down a ramp or over uneven terrain.

Aim: Explore designs to make it easier for these individuals to use a walker or a wheelchair used as a walker.

Design Criteria: Consider a design that would be an add-on device to a standard walker or a wheelchair used as a walker.

Sidewalker by Alimed

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Asthma Control Project

Background: Asthma affects 30 million people in the US - many of them children - with $50 billion in associated health care costs. Asthma control can be determined by measuring airflow rates during exhalation, a term called peak expiratory flow. The value is obtained by asking patients to exhale as quickly and as hard as they can into a simple airflow meter that patients keep with them at home. Several apps have also been designed to measure this flow rate by correlating the detected sound of airflow with flow rate.

Problem: Existing airflow meters are not very appealing to children and do not engage them in the management of their condition.

Aim: Explore ways to change the design or features of traditional flow meters and apps that would make them more attractive and fun for children to use.

Design Criteria:


AT&T Demonstrates Wireless Asthma Sensor
App for iPhone, iPad, Android Tracks Asthma Symptoms, Medications
VitalFlo Wins at NASA Tech Briefs Award (with video 2:03)
Vitalflo (with video 1:48)

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Wheelchair Adaptation for Easy Transfers

Background: Ability Production provides services, information, and resources for individuals and their support communities who want to maximize their health and quality of life while managing spinal cord issues. The research and experience we share through Ability Production helps anyone who wishes to Discover the Ability in Disability.

Problem: Some users of powered wheelchairs may be able to accomplish standing transfers independently. However, existing wheelchairs do not provide a mechanical configuration that would assist them in accomplishing this task.

Aim: Explore mechanical designs for onboard handrails that would provide easy to use, safe, independent standing transfers including to a toilet.

Design Criteria: The design should be easy and safe to use, be able to bear the user's weight during transfers, and be adapted to existing wheelchairs.

Ability Production

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Customize the Wheelchair Project

US Market Size Background:

  • About 2 million manual wheelchairs are in use today.
  • 60% of manual wheelchairs (1.2 million) are used by individuals 65 and older.
  • Wheelchair use by individuals 65 and older is five times greater than the entire population.
  • The number of citizens 65 and older is expected to grow from 40 million in 2010 to 55 million in 2020, requiring an additional 450,000 manual wheelchairs.
  • 80 million baby boomers started turning 65 this year (10,000 a day).

Problem: Individuals who use wheelchairs have little opportunity to extend their personal sense of fashion and aesthetics to these devices. This is exacerbated by the fact that the equipment covered by health insurance or Medicare is often the most "basic" version with a plain design. Whereas one's choice of clothes, shoes, accessories, and jewelry are made on a daily basis, users of wheelchairs have to "wear" the same equipment everyday and for every occasion.

Aim: Explore ways to add a personal aesthetic to wheelchairs.

Design Criteria:

  • The design should not alter or permanently deface or damage the physical structure of the wheelchair.
  • The customization should be able to easily be installed, removed, changed, cleaned, and washed by the user.
  • The design should work on a number of popular / standard wheelchairs covered by insurance and Medicare.
  • Consider different user personas and aesthetics (e.g. refined / elegant, modern / contemporary, smart / sporty, premium / luxury, male / female, as well as the age of user, etc).
  • Consider fabrics, metal finishes, color, patterns, light, texture, and text elements.
  • Consider a variety of usage occasions (e.g. in-home, outdoors, party, tailgater, etc).
  • The design should be inexpensive and easy to fabricate.
  • Also consider designs that would enhance wheelchair visibility while crossing streets.
Design Flair for the Least-Stylish Devices
Icon Wheelchairs
Amazing Halloween Costumes around a Wheelchair

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Dog Leash Project

Problem: Wheelchair users who walk their dogs need their hands to both control their pets and propel their wheelchairs. A leash that is simply tied to the wheelchair can get caught under the wheels and interfere with the brake mechanism. And a strong dog may be able to tip the owner's wheelchair.

Users of rollators (walkers) also experience similar problems.

Aim: Explore designs for a dog leash system that will be easy for users to attach to their wheelchairs or rollators independently, prevent the leash from being caught under the wheelchair or rollator, and avoid being tipped over by a strong dog.

Design Criteria: The improved leash design can employ commercially available components, but must be simple in design, lightweight, easy to attach by pet owners with limited hand movement, provide a reliable release, and be inexpensive to fabricate.

Deborah Davis' video pitch
Push Living
Wheelchair Leash Hook and Custom Lead
Petego Walky Dog Hands-Free Bicycle Leash
sciLeash - A hands-free pet leash for manual wheelchairs
Salt Life Logo Coil Leash
photo of dog's leash caught in the wheel of a walker

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Wireless Treat Dispenser

Problem: Many people with disabilities, not just individuals with vision impairments, use highly trained service dogs or monkeys. Some individuals with disabilities are not able to reward their service animal's behavior with treats.

Aim: Explore a design for a simple wireless treat dispenser for service animals that would operate by a switch or a wireless signal.

Henry Evan's Blog
Stroke AAC Success Story (video)
Article: Why AAC?
Scoop Bowls
X10 Products

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Household Tasks Project

Problem: Older adults often find it difficult to perform everyday household tasks such as hanging curtains, fixing household devices, cleaning windows, ironing, and making the bed.

Aim: The goal of this project is to explore and create devices that are capable of improving or restoring the ability of older adults to attend to daily household tasks, especially the most basic ones such as making the bed and ironing.

Design Criteria: The design should be intuitive and safe to use, highly reliable, lightweight, and easy to handle, clean, and store.


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Shower / Bathtub / Sink / Toilet Cleaning Project

Problem: For older adults to remain in their current housing (as they desire), they must be able to independently maintain the cleanliness of their house, including its shower, bathtub, sink, and toilet. While there are numerous cleaning products on the market, none adequately addresses the problem. [What are some of their limitations?]

Aim: The aim of this project is to explore and design a solution for the shower / bathtub / sink / toilet cleaning problem for an older adult with a disability.

Design Criteria: The design(s) must be economical, esthetically pleasing, easy and safe to use while performing the cleaning task. The design will depend on the user's abilities.


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Educational Activities for Children with Disabilities

Background: Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) creates hands-on activity kits which nine thousand educators use to help nearly one million students master important concepts in school and after school each year.

A large percentage of the students these educators serve have disabilities (physical, mental, or emotional). RAFT is particularly popular with these educators because our hands-on activities often seem to "open up" disabled students and get them excited about learning and participating.

Problem: Special education teachers report that they often wish there were more activities focused on children with disabilities.

Aim: Investigate and develop new educational activities appropriate for children with disabilities. This may include mechanical and/or computer software solutions that will provide interactive access for these learners.

Design Criteria: The design must be appropriate for the intellectual and disability level of the students; must be very low cost; safe to use; easy to store, setup, explain, use, and ship; and must fit into the students' educational plan.

Other: Access to teachers and students will be provided.


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Projects with veterans with spinal cord injury

1. Problems and needs expressed at SCI Peer Support Group Meeting

Manipulating objects:
  • picking up dropped items, especially from under tables or chairs
  • reaching items high on shelves
  • carrying items such as groceries
  • retrieving mail from mailbox
  • BBQ implements
  • handling a bank card at an ATM
  • handling money - both coins and bills
Accessing the real-world:
  • charging system for powered wheelchair users
  • iPhone camera mount for a photographer with C5/6 quadriplegia
  • opening doors
  • opening a 2-liter bottle
  • preparing food and cooking tasks, including making sandwiches and heating soup
  • controlling appliances such as the TV, telephone, electric bed, music system, nurse call, etc.
    HouseMate ECU for Android Configurator
    VoiceIR Environmental Voice Controller Configurator
  • transferring to / from wheelchair to bed or shower
  • tele-visiting / tele-working with family / co-workers at home/office during hospital stay
  • selecting groceries remotely for delivery
  • design for an arm ergometer that would allow users to strap themselves in
  • a joystick design that would accommodate a variety of shaft geometries
  • a cup holder that can fit on any wheelchair
Recreational activities:
Caregiver (family, nurse, and therapist) assistance

2. Fishing rod, wheelchair brackets, accessible digital camera, lap tray system

  • A device to operate a fishing rod for a user without use of upper extremity - to reel the line in/out, lock the reel, etc
    some existing products from Broadened Horizons
  • A bracket design for new power wheelchairs that would allow use of an overhead sling system
  • A bracket system for power wheelchairs that would work with a mobile arm support system
  • A device that would allow a high level quadriplegia (C4) to use a digital camera. It need not be able to adjust position of camera, but it should include a feature to snap a photo for users with diminished hand function.
    some existing products from Broadened Horizons
  • A lap tray system that is compatible with the new wheelchair designs

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Projects for persons recovering from stroke

Standing Straight Project

Problem: Persons recovering from stroke (CVA) often have a significant shift in their perceived center of gravity. This causes them to shift their weight to their unaffected side, with their head and / or trunk at a 20 degree angle, even though they think they are sitting or standing straight. This has a significant negative effect on the tone of their affected limbs, causing them to become more spastic.

Aim: The goal of this project is to develop a dynamic device that would aid the person to realize their true center thus enabling better rehabilitation of their limbs.

Other: A similar device could be used for people recovering from back injury, alerting them when they bend at the back rather than keeping it straight during lifting.

Cellphone and Tablet Holder

Aim: Explore designs for a device that would make it easier to hold and use cellphone and tablets with one hand. This would serve individuals who have had a stroke, who have arthritis, cerebral palsy, or are amputees.

Activities of Daily Living

Aim: Explore designs for devices that would help persons who have had a stroke, who have arthritis, cerebral palsy, have limited arm or hand strength, or are amputees to perform activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, or other common household tasks.

Tablet Design - UC Ergonomics

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Other project ideas

  1. Accessible interfaces for commonly-used devices:
    iPods / iPads / mp3 players
    Remote controls

  2. Toys for kids with disabilities

  3. Projects benefitting children with Autism

  4. Projects benefitting parents with disabilities

  5. Projects supporting equal access to extracurricular sports activities for students with disabilities

  6. Revisit projects listed in NSF guide:
    Engineering Senior Design Projects to Aid Persons with Disabilities

  7. Student-defined projects:
    Interview, observe, and discuss assistive technology needs with an individual with a disability or older adult. Address their need to participate in one of the following areas by designing an adaptation to an existing device / tool or creating a new, more useful one.

    • Activities of Daily Living - cooking, showering or bathing, dressing, cleaning, housework, yard work, employment, education, shopping, commuting, etc

    • Sports and Exercise - walking, running, indoor and outdoor sports, etc

    • Leisure Activities and Hobbies - collecting, model making, crafts, board games & videogames, etc

Project Coach:
David L. Jaffe, MS

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Updated 01/02/2014

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