Winter Quarter 2021

Perspectives in Assistive Technology


David L. Jaffe, MS
Online via Zoom
Tuesdays & Thursdays from 4:30pm to 5:50pm PT

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Course Syllabus



Background Information on Assistive Technology:
Assistive Technology (AT) is a general term that includes devices, services, and policies that benefits older adults and people with disabilities, the institutions and facilities where beneficial efforts take place, as well as the process that makes them available to this population. An AT device is one that has a diagnostic, functional, adaptive, or rehabilitative benefit. Engineers employ an AT process to understand the challenge, design, develop, test, and bring to market new devices. Other professionals are involved in evaluating their need, prescribing them, supplying them, installing and setting them up, instructing their use, and assessing their benefit. These products promote greater independence, increased opportunities and participation, and an enhanced quality of life for people with disabilities by enabling them to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish (or had great difficulty accomplishing, or required assistance) through enhanced or alternate methods of interacting with the world.

There are an estimated 61 million Americans (25 percent of the population) with some level of disability which limits their ability to fully participate in society. As the nation ages, the number of people experiencing such limitations will certainly increase. New AT devices incorporating novel designs and emerging technologies have the potential to further improve the lives of people with disabilities and older adults.


ENGR110/210 consists of semi-weekly lectures from experts in the field, including designers, entrepreneurs, clinicians, and users. Beyond these lectures, students can choose to engage in a project experience that includes project identification, understanding the problem, and design. These students interact with users of assistive technology, design coaches, and project partners. Other students can select to write a comprehensive report on a organization that works with persons with a disability or an older adult.


Expectations for Students:
By taking Perspectives in Assistive Technology, students will:

  • Gain a full appreciation for and an understanding of the engineering, medical, and social aspects associated with the design, development, and use of assistive technology,

  • Learn about a wide variety of issues in technology development, including intellectual property rights and best practices in community engagement, and

  • Engage in a comprehensive design experience that includes working with users of assistive technology to identify challenges, prototype solutions, perform user testing, practice iterative design, and communicate results.


The Winter Quarter ENGR110/210 explores technology that benefits people with disabilities and older adults.

The course consists of online semi-weekly class sessions that features discussions, guest lectures, virtual field trips, a virtual assistive technology faire, a film screening, and student project presentations.

Enrollment is open to any student - undergrad or grad - from any discipline.

The course content is non-technical. There are no exams, quizzes, problem sets, or finals.

There is an opportunity to work on projects that address real problems experienced by individuals in the local community. These projects are pursued individually. Students choose projects from pitches by people from the community who would benefit from a device that would enhance their function, improve their independence, and / or increase their quality of life.

Students can also suggest their own projects - typically one that benefits themself (as a student with a disability) or a family member (or friend) with a disability. Such projects must be approved by the instructor.

The flexible course structure includes project options as well as a lectures-only option. The project option is 2 credit units, while taking the course as a seminar (just attending lectures, no project) is 1 credit unit CR/NC.


Course Description:
Perspectives in Assistive Technology is a one-quarter (10-week) course taught at Stanford during the Winter Quarter that explores the design, development, and use of technology that benefits people with disabilities and older adults. Students from diverse disciplines (mostly mechanical engineers) and from all academic years (approximately equally divided between upper class and graduate students) have enrolled in the course.

The course combines online discussions, presentations by guest lecturers, individual projects, virtual site visits to medical and engineering facilities, a virtual assistive technology faire, a film screening, and project presentations by students.

This course consists of twice-weekly presentations by guest lecturers who are experts in the greater assistive technology field, including product designers, entrepreneurs, researchers, clinicians, and assistive technology users. Lectures are open to all students and community members (local individuals without a Stanford affiliation), including non-enrolled students interested in a particular lecture and individuals with disabilities. Over the years, guest lecturers have addressed a wide variety of issues in assistive technology such as disability and rehabilitation, research and development, service learning, design process and brainstorming, design software, intellectual property, technology licensing, personal perspectives, and human subjects in research.

Tours of local medical facilities and engineering laboratories (VA Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Injury Services and Stanford Motion and Gait Analysis Laboratory) as well as the Magical Bridge Playground (a facility designed to be accessible and inclusive for kids and parents with disabilities) are scheduled during the quarter. Tours will be conducted virtually this quarter.

The Assistive Technology Faire provides an opportunity for students and community members to get an up-close look at a variety of commercial devices. Users of assistive technology products as well as small companies and agencies serving individuals with disabilities and older adults bring assistive technology devices to display and demonstrate. The Faire will be also conducted virtually this coming quarter.

Beyond these lectures and tours, students can participate in an individual design project experience that addresses problems faced by users of assistive technology or research or research and write a comprehensive report on a facility that serves people with disabilities or older adults.

The course is taught by David L. Jaffe who holds a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a MS degree in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University. Prior to coming to Stanford, he was a Research Biomedical Engineer at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System's Rehabilitation Research and Development Center. At the VA his interests were designing, developing, testing, and bringing to market microcomputer-based devices for veterans with disabilities including communication, mobility, and information systems.


Course Description on Explore Courses:
ENGR 110: Perspectives in Assistive Technology (ENGR 110) (ENGR 210)

Online seminar and student project course that explores the personal, medical, social, ethical, and technical challenges surrounding the design, development, and use of technologies that improve the lives of people with disabilities and older adults. Guest lecturers include engineers, clinicians, researchers, and individuals with disabilities. Students from any discipline are welcome to enroll. Two credit units for students who pursue an individual assistive technology project (letter grade or S/NC) with a community partner. One credit unit for seminar attendance only (S/NC). Designated a Cardinal Course by the Haas Center for Public Service.Link


Teaching Team:
David L. Jaffe, MS - dljaffe -at-
      Course Lecturer

Kat McNeill - katriona -at-
      Course Assistant


The course:



  • Expose students to the engineering, medical, and social issues facing engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs, clinicians, older adults, and individuals with disabilities in the design, development, and use of assistive technology

  • Engage students in a project experience that exercises team working skills (leadership & organization) and applies an engineering design process to address difficulties experienced by individuals with disabilities and older adults

  • Provide an opportunity for students to interact with users of assistive technology in the local community along with health care professionals, coaches, and project partners

  • Enhance students' problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills, with specific emphasis on in-class discussions, report writing, and project presentations

  • Encourage students to use their engineering skills and design expertise to help individuals with disabilities and older adults increase their independence and improve their quality of life


Course Laptop Policy:
During in-person class session - To encourage learning, discussion, and respectful interaction between students, the teaching team, and guest lecturers, the use of digital devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc. is only permitted before and after class and during the short class session break.


Zoom Etiquette:

  • Join the Zoom class session early
  • Meet with instructor before or after class
  • Enter the class session with Video on and Mute on
  • Use a profile photo of yourself if you have to temporarily leave the session or have a poor internet connection
  • Minimize distractions
  • Use the Raise Hand function if you have a question
  • Send a private chat message to record your attendance - use your real name
  • Reframe from eating in the session, drinking is ok
  • Be respectful of others
  • Respond to instructor's chat and poll questions
  • Ask questions about unclear concepts
  • Do not watch videos, listen to music, read your email, or use other applications (other than note-taking apps) while attending class
  • Uncurb your enthusiasm
  • Bring your passion for learning
  • Prepare to be challenged and motivated


In-class Discussions:
Each class session typically begins with a fifteen to twenty minute interactive discussion that promotes critical thinking, analysis, and questioning.


Class Sessions:
Presentations are given by guest lecturers who address a wide variety of issues in assistive technology such as disability and rehabilitation, research and development, service learning, brainstorming and need-finding, design software, intellectual property, technology licensing, personal perspectives, and human subjects in research.


Virtual tours of local medical facilities and engineering laboratories are scheduled during the quarter.


One Credit Unit Lecture-only Option:
For students whose schedule does not permit working on a team-based project in ENGR110/210, one and two credit unit lecture-only options are offered. As there are no assignments or exams, the grading is Credit / No Credit - no letter grades are given for these options. Students enrolled with the one unit option must attend at least 15 class sessions, including the first class session, Introduction to Assistive Technology.


Two Credit Unit Project Option:
Projects for Two Credit Units differ from previous year's Team Projects in that they (projects for Two Credit Units) may address simpler problems, have less complex solutions, may not require a fabrication task, may not involve a user, may not require following an engineering design process, or result in a lower level of prototype functionality (such as producing a CAD design instead of a working physical prototype). For example, a project may focus on investigating a service related to assistive technology such as connecting older adults with each other or with college students.

Optionally, two students may work collectively on projects for Two Credit Units, sharing these tasks: obtaining background information and brainstorming. However each student is required to pursue, present, and report on different solutions.

Students enrolled in the two credit unit project option are required to attend at least 15 class sessions, including:

Two Credit Unit Project Assignment
Students are asked to choose and pursue a specific project activity, present their work, submit a final comprehensive final project report that encompasses their efforts for the entire quarter, and reflect on their experiences.

Project ideas come from various public and private sources in the community, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Palo Alto Health Care System's Spinal Cord Injury Center, local assistive living facilities, senior centers, as well as from foundations like the Muscular Dystrophy Association, or from individuals.

Funding to support the course and student projects come from Stanford sources, company partners, foundations, etc.


Three Credit Unit Team Project Option:
Due to the online nature of the course this academic year, there will be no three credit unit team project option.


Assignment Dues Dates:

Assignment Date
Project Report Thursday, March 18th
Individual Reflection Thursday, March 18th



There is no cap on enrollment this year.

Here are all the enrollment options for students to consider:

  1. Individual Project Option - Students may enroll in the course for 2 credit units and work on an individual project for a letter grade or S/NC and are required to attend at least 15 class sessions.

  2. Seminar Option - Students may enroll in the course for 1 credit unit and are required to attend at least 15 class sessions for CR/NC with no project participation.

  3. Taking the Course Twice Option - Please note that students may enroll in the course (as ENGR110) for either of these 1 credit unit options in the current year and take the course (as ENGR210) for 3 credit units in a subsequent year with credit given for lectures already attended. This option would not apply to graduating seniors. (Three students have exercised this option.)

  4. Independent Study Option - Students may enroll in ME191 (Independent Study) in a subsequent quarter and work on an individual project for a letter grade and a negotiated number of credit units.

  5. Next Year Option - Students who will be around next year may sit in (without enrolling) on lectures they find interesting and enroll in the course the following year with credit given for the lectures already attended.

  6. Sit in on Class Session Option - Students may choose not to enroll in the course, but are most welcome to sit in on any class sessions that interest them.



A student who has missed a course event (class session, field trip, or deadline) or has knowledge he/she will miss a course event should not provide a reason for his/her absence as this requires the instructor to make a judgment on the validity of his/her reason. Instead, the student should ask how to make up the missed event.


Missed Class Session Policy:

  • All enrolled students are encouraged to attend all ENGR110/210 lectures.

  • Enrolled students taking the course for 1 unit must attend at least 15 lectures including the first lecture, Introduction to Assistive Technology.

  • One Excused Class Session for Student Project

  • Making Up Missed Class Sessions

    • Missed class sessions may be made up by first reviewing the material from the missed class session: view the video (taking notes), following along with the PowerPoint slides, reading any handout material, viewing any photos and other videos, and browsing any weblinks posted on the lecture webpage.

    • Next arrange to meet with the instructor to discuss the missed class session. Be prepared to lead the conversation on the class session's content with questions, comments, observations, thoughts, and reflections. Consider "What one item did you hear, see, or learn that was new, surprising, interesting, or provided a new perspective?" The meeting should take about 20 minutes.

    • After the meeting, the student will be credited with "attending" the class session.

    • Missed class sessions should be made up at the earliest earliest opportunity (ideally within a week) as it may be more difficult to find the time to review the material and meet near the end of the quarter.

  • Grade Impact for Missed Class Sessions

    If one or more required class sessions are missed and are not made up by the deadline for grade submission, the student's grade will be affected as follows:

    • For students taking the course as Credit / No Credit, the following options are available for student who have not attended at least 15 class sessions:

      • Receive No Credit for the course.
      • Request to receive Incomplete for the course. If subsequently the missed class sessions are made up, the grade will be changed to Credit.
    • For students taking the course for a Letter Grade, the following options are available for students who have missed one or more class sessions:

      • Deduct one incremental letter grade (ie "A" becomes "A-", etc) for each missed class session not made up.
      • Request to receive Incomplete for the course. If subsequently the missed class session(s) are made up, a letter grade reflecting the student's performance will be recorded.



Final Report
Final Presentation
Individual Reflection
Participation *

* Participation includes meeting with instructor, actively listening, posing questions to the guest speakers and the course instructor, engaging in class discussions, verbalizing thoughts and analyses, and submitting Weekly Individual Reports.


Letters of Recomendations and Employment References:

Students: Please strive to make your qualifications, skills, and abilities evident.
    Letters of Recommendation:
  • Be aware that the course instructor is not a professor, nor does he have a PhD. Make sure this is ok with the agency or institution to which the Letter of Recommendation is being sent.

  • For Mechanical Engineering students seeking a Coterminal Degree, a cummulative grade point average of 3.7 is highly desirable. If this average is met, a Letter of Recommendation is a simple formality for the instructor to complete. The student must waive his / her right to inspect the contents of the Recommendation. Submit a filled-out, signed, and dated Recommendation Form (Coterminal Application for ME Program - page 6) to the instructor - no envelope is needed.

  • For students seeking a Coterminal Degree in CS, the recommender is asked to write candidly about the candidate's:

    • qualifications,
    • potential to carry on advanced study in the field specified,
    • intellectual independence,
    • capacity for analytical thinking,
    • ability to organize and express ideas clearly, and
    • potential for teaching.

    In addition, the recommender is instructed to describe specific examples of attributes such as motivation, intellect, and maturity.

  • For students seeking to apply to MIT"s Media Arts and Science graduate program, the recommender is asked to respond to these questions:

    • What particularly qualifies this applicant for study at MIT?
    • What are the applicant's accomplishments in research or independent projects?
    • How does the applicant compare to other students you know who have attended MIT?
    • Can the student clearly communicate ideas in written and spoken English?
    • Do you have any reservations about the applicant's ability to succeed at MIT?
  • For students who desire a Letter of Recommendation for a university application or job employment, a declaration must be made at the start of the quarter and the student must meet with the instructor three times during the quarter (beginning, midway, and end) to provide the instructor an opportunity to follow the student's progress throughout the course.

  • Requests for a Letter of Recommendation must be made at least a month in advance of the due date.

  • Please review this webpage, "Getting a Letter of Recommendation" by Scott D. Anderson, a Lecturer in the Computer Science Department of Wellesley College.

    Employment References:
  • The instructor must be made aware of a request for a telephone-based employment reference.

  • The student must specify what student project tasks he / she has engaged in.


Students with Disabilities:

Creating and enhancing a supportive educational environment is one of the University's highest priorities. Ensuring that students with disabilities have full access to all instructional settings is part of the University's efforts.

Students with Documented Disabilities: Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty. Unless the student has a temporary disability, Accommodation letters are issued for the entire academic year. Students should contact the OAE as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations. The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk; phone: 650/723-1066.

If you require a disability-related accommodation to participate in the course, please contact the course instructor. Requests should be made at least two weeks in advance.


ENGR110/210 Lecture Schedule - 2021


Lecture Date





Jan 12th

Course Overview & Introduction to Assistive Technology
David L. Jaffe, MS

Assignment - Project Report & Presentation handed out

This is a required class session for all students


Jan 14th

Project Pitch Day
Project Suggestors


Project Selection due Tuesday, January 19th

This is a required class session for students working on projects


Jan 19th

Class Discussion
Creating Assistive Technologies - Understanding the Problem

Gayle Curtis


Jan 21st

Class Discussion
Bridging the Gap between Consumers and Products in Rehabilitation Medicine

Deborah E. Kenney, MS, OTR/L



Jan 26th

Class Discussion
Perspectives of Stanford Students with a Disability

Sylvia Colt-Lacayo, Gene Sung-Ho Kim, Tilly Kennedy Griffiths, and Abby Tamara


Jan 28th

Class Discussion
Designing Beyond the Norm to Meet the Needs of All People

Peter W. Axelson, MSME, ATP, RET



Feb 2nd

Class Discussion
Bionic Ears: Cochlear Implants and the Future of Assistive Technology

Lindsey Dolich Felt, PhD


Feb 4th

Class Discussion
Issues of Human Interface Design

Gary M. Berke, MS, CP, FAAOP



Feb 9th

Class Discussion
From Idea to Market: Eatwell, Assistive Tableware for Persons with Cognitive Impairments

Sha Yao


Feb 11th

Class Discussion
The Design and Control of Exoskeletons for Rehabilitation

Katherine Strausser, PhD



Feb 16th

Student Project Updates


This is a required class session for students working on projects


Feb 18th

Class Discussion
Aesthetics Matter & Empathy and Problem Definition

Jules Sherman



Feb 23rd

Class Discussion
Improving Home Environments for Older Adults

Matteo Zallio, M.Arch, PhD


Feb 25th

Class Discussion
Virtual Assistive Technology Faire

Various Vendors



Mar 2nd

Class Discussion
Normalcy Fallacy: Reimagining Mobility for Scientific Discovery & Innovation

Kat M. Steele, PhD, MS

Designing Exoskeletons and Prosthetic Limbs that Enhance Human Performance
Steven H. Collins, PhD


Mar 4th

Class Discussion
Virtual Field Trip to the Magical Bridge Playground

Olenka Villarreal

Virtual Field Trip to the VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Graham H. Creasey, MD, FRCSEd & Shawna Hill, CTRS, RYT; Jessica A. Radmilovic, CTRS; and Huy B. Diep



Mar 9th

Class Discussion
Machine Learning, Biosensing, Virtual Reality Technology - Converging to Transform Healthcare

Walter Greenleaf, PhD


Mar 11th

Class Discussion
Wheelchair Fabrication in Developing Countries

Ralf Hotchkiss



Mar 16th

Student Project Final Presentations


This is a required class session for students working on projects


Mar 18th

Student Project Final Presentations


This is a required class session for students working on projects

Project Final Reports
End-Quarter Reflection due Thursday, March 18th


Mar 23rd

Final exam week - no class


Updated 08/18/2021

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