Cooperation: the mother of invention


By Philip Fine

Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes is the mastermind behind a new class that brings together physical and occupational therapy students with engineering students. Photo: (Owen Egan/Joni Dufour)

Students from the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT) and the Department of Biomedical Engineering now share a new course combining the therapist’s goal of maximizing quality of life with the engineer’s pursuit of functionality.

In the class, teams partner with a client who has a disability. Together, they develop a solution to an obstacle the client encounters in his or her daily activities.

One team from the first cohort helped a quadriplegic man enjoy his balcony. The 14-inch-high threshold that separated the balcony from his apartment made sitting outdoors inaccessible. Students Jasmine Tacneng, BEng’18 (Mechanical Engineering), Ela Rutkowski (Occupational Therapy) and Cheng Yueh Tsai, BSc’17 (Physiotherapy), re-tooled a chair to pull up to the barrier. The back motorized wheels remained inside, with the seated client cantilevered on the balcony outside. From there, he was able to transfer to his walker.

For another project, Parisa Alirezaee (Computer Engineering) partnered with clinical team Vanessa Seto, BSc’17, and Nadine Wilk (both in Occupational Therapy) to work with a blind man. The client was frustrated with having to rely on others to find his luggage in a carousel or to relocate his seat on a train after getting up. After consultation with the team, he now has a new strategy, whereby he tags his luggage or seat with a tracking device, using his voice-controlled smartphone to activate its sound alert.

The year-long course, Design of Assistive Technology: Principles and Praxis, is led by Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes, Assistant Professor, SPOT.

For more information, please visit the course website.

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