People with disabilities receive devices specific to their needs after working with university students

Year-long multidisciplinary and collaborative project designed to improve quality of life for people with physical disabilities

Students design devices to help clients with physical disabilities. (University of Detroit Mercy)

For people with disabilities, many everyday functions can be cumbersome and frustrating.

Because each person is unique, so are their disabilities and the obstacles they meet. In these cases, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work when it comes to assistive devices.

This is where students at University of Detroit Mercy come together to help.

Each year, nursing and engineering students at UDM embark on a year-long multidisciplinary and collaborative project designed to improve the quality of life for people with physical disabilities.

The program, named Faces on Design, pairs seniors from UDM’s College of Engineering and Science with nursing students from the College of Health Professions/McAuley School of Nursing and gives them the space to design unique assistive devices that resolve a need.

The students work directly with people who have a physical disability so that the students can completely understand the problems they encounter during daily functions due to their disability. The collaboration, which lasts for a full year, enables the students to identify the obstacles that clients face. Then, the students work to help the client overcome those hurdles by coming up with a custom designed assistive device that ultimately improves the life of the person and/or their family.

That’s just the first half of the course.

Ideas come to fruition

The second half is when the students get to bring their ideas to life and create devices through the construction of a prototype. Once that is made, it undergoes tests and modifications based on client input and student expertise. This not only ensures the device fits the client’s specific needs, but that it is safe to use.

For instance, one client named Scott suffered a C5-C6 spinal cord injury as a result of a vehicle crash in 2007. The injury left him with limited mobility in his hands and no feeling below his chest.

Students on Scott’s team worked to design a device that allows him to get from his wheelchair to his RV bed while camping. The device, which improves Scott’s current lift system, gives him and his wife a safer and more efficient alternative.

“This program takes everything we’ve learned throughout our time at Detroit Mercy and culminates it for good,” said Justin Petouhoff, a senior mechanical engineering student. “In speaking with our client, all of us came to the conclusion that he needed a device to help him get from his wheelchair into the bed in his RV. Not only will this device represent all the skills that we’ve learned, but it will be something that all of us can be proud of. This is really an opportunity to grow not only as an engineer and a student but also as a person.”

Students design devices to help clients with physical disabilities. (University of Detroit Mercy)

Another client, Hope, was born with spina bifida, which limits movement in her torso and lower extremities. Students on her team designed a wheelchair storage device that would allow Hope to store items and access them independently.

Pete suffers from multiple sclerosis, which can cause muscle weakness, heightened fatigue and episodes of dizziness. Students on his team designed a custom shower chair Pete can use so that he can get in and out of the shower safely. The team aimed to give Pete a device that would continue to ensure his safety as his condition progresses.

Improving lives now and in the future

One of the foundations of the UDM education experience is to provide students with academic, laboratory and clinical experience, as well as the chance to apply their learning to professional practice. They do this in partnership with their professors, top educators who mentor students closely and encourage them to take what they learn in the classroom, lab and clinical, and apply it to real-life issues.

Helping students understand how they can take what they learn and use it in an altruistic way to improve the lives of those who are experiencing need or could use the help is a big part of the institution’s Jesuit and Mercy traditions.

It appears these students are doing just that. And, in turn, their clients with physical disabilities are benefiting greatly from it.

To learn more about UDM, its programs and how students are partnering with people in the community, click or tap here.