Prototype wheelchair delivered to Lincoln Developmental Center

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Students from the Grand Valley's School of Engineering delivered a power wheelchair trainer to Lincoln Developmental Center Tuesday that may brighten the future of special education students there.

For the past two years, students of John Farris and Chris Pung, professors of engineering, have worked on a product designed to allow standard wheel chairs to simulate power wheelchair abilities. More students could qualify for financial assistance to obtain a power wheelchair if they can prove that they can operate a power wheelchair safely. The new product is designed to attach to the students existing manual chair and enable students to learn over time how to control a powered wheelchair.  

Four engineering students worked on the original design with funding from Mobility Opportunities Via Education/Experience, an organization that helps children and adults with severe disabilities acquire more abilities through instruction and adaptive equipment. This second design, funded by Ronald McDonald Charities, includes adaptations such as a larger joystick and a power loading system designed by Student Summer Scholar Shawn Wright.

"We have collaborated with many partners in the community and at Grand Valley," said Farris. "One of our power wheelchair trainers was sold to the University of California at Irvine, who will also work on peripherals.”

Cathy Ripmaster, one of the physical therapists at LDC, has been working on this project with Grand Valley since 2008. She and Grand Valley physical therapy graduate student Nicole Mahler have been testing the first prototype of this power wheelchair trainer since January 2009. Mahler will give a presentation at the American Physical Therapy Association conference in New Orleans in February 2011, discussing her work with Ripmaster, Farris and John Peck, director and professor of physical therapy in Grand Valley’s School of Health Professions.

“It has been a great opportunity for our students to work on real-world problems,” said Farris. "The collaboration between departments also made it possible to provide internship opportunities for two Grand Valley graduate students."

LDC will test this new trainer and recommend changes to better serve its students, determine the trainers’ potential in this population, and establish a baseline for the sensitivity of the new assessment tool. In the future, they plan on taking what they have found and continue their research with the hopes of developing more trainers that can be tested in other facilities, with different students, and physical therapists.