Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How Rehab Engineering Students are Helping the Disabled

Engineering students aid disabled community

By By Nina Carter

VN Special Writer
Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 21:10
Delbert McCoy had not been able to eat a bowl of soup since age 19 – first because his hands (like 90 percent of his body) had been severely burned and then because of later-in-life onset of Parkinson's Disease.
But that changed when University of Detroit Mercy mechanical engineering students tackled McCoy's challenge.
Each year, students of Dr. Derek Kleinke, a UDM professor of four years, have the opportunity to change the lives of several people by creating "assistive technology" for clients with physical challenges.
Kleinke was inspired by the professor before him to assign the difficult projects to his senior students.
"At first, I was worried that the student team would feel uncomfortable being around the client," he said. "Our first was a man suffering from MS (multiple sclerosis). But the client was so determined to overcome MS that he inspired myself and the students."
The students face the formidable task of figuring out a client's problems and designing a device to ease them.
In one case, students worked with a paraplegic man who was comfortable with his manual wheelchair and did not want to own a power chair. But he constantly struggled with everyday tasks, such as laundry, because he would drop things he set on his lap when he had to use his arms to move the chair.
In response to this man's wishes, the students designed a power pack that could easily attach to an ordinary wheelchair and provide electric power for as long as the client wished and could be removed when done.
This particular project is one of many featuring a student design that has potential to turn into a business, said Kleinke.
The projects can put a lot of pressure on the students, who are trying not only to please an actual client but also to achieve a high grade for their work.
"At first, students are apprehensive and they tend to feel the pressure halfway through the semester," said Kleinke. "That's what I want. But in the end when they have to deliver the product to the client and look them in the eyes, there is no doubt whether they have done a good engineering job."
The program, branded Faces by Design, gives students a hands-on experience and prepares them for situations that they may face in their careers, according to their teacher.
Kleinke, who worked many years for Ford before coming to teach at UDM, said that in large companies many engineers have very specific tasks. He likes giving students the opportunity to work the design process from beginning to end.
"I was worried that we would run out of projects as the years went on," said Kleinke. "But the disabled community gets overlooked and there are projects everywhere. Knowing that your students helped at least one client with a design (and could possibly help thousands more) is inspiring."
Delbert McCoy stirred the UDM mechanical engineering students to try to help him eat soup on his own again without spilling from the tremors caused by his Parkinson's.
The student team engineered the Spill-Proof Balloon Spoon, which allows clients to suck liquid into a balloon at the handle of the spoon and then squeeze the balloon releasing the liquid once the spoon is in the mouth.
"With each design, we know that we have helped at least one person," said Kleinke. "But with designs like the Spill-Proof Balloon Spoon, we could help thousands across the country by distributing to nursing homes."
That thought pleases Kleinke and his student engineers.

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