Engineering students create back-to-school tool for special needs students

From left, Alex Hastings and Adam DeVries were part of the design team for the trays.
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From left, Alex Hastings and Adam DeVries were part of the design team for the trays.
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A unique back-to-school tool that was designed and developed by a team of Grand Valley engineering students will help special needs students at Kent Intermediate School District this year.

On August 29, two kindergarten students demonstrated how to use the new, transparent tool, which attaches to walkers, allowing students to move around more easily.

KISD Physical Therapist Michelle Gallery approached engineering professor John Farris last October with a need to ease mobility for students using walkers. “My students use an iPad and it’s difficult for students to hold it while maneuvering their walker, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have an extra set of hands?’” she said.

The project started in Grand Valley’s Design, Optimization, Evaluation and Redesign (DOER) Center — a consulting clearing house for the School of Engineering that matches clients with faculty and students — then transitioned to groups of senior students studying product design and manufacturing engineering. Throughout the year, Grand Valley students and Farris met with Gallery and her students to test the product and make modifications as needed. 

The tray is designed to be multifunctional, explained Farris. “The tray aids students with mobility, communication and socialization through carrying items such as iPads, lunch trays and books,” he said. 

After seeing positive reactions and feedback from her students and their parents, Gallery and others at KISD requested more and plan to collaborate with Grand Valley on a similar project for wheelchairs in the future. Farris said he and his team are determining the best way to produce more commercially.

“The physical therapists at KISD were great because they were quick to give feedback and suggestions,” said Farris. “And our students enjoyed working with KISD because they got to help the community and experience working with people from a different discipline.”

Padnos College of Engineering and Computing Dean Paul Plotkowski said: “We hope to see students benefit from the trays not just locally, but beyond. This is a wonderful partnership and we hope to continue it.”