Students in an assistive technology course this summer at The University of Texas-Pan American, had the opportunity to create some innovative items to assist individuals with disabilities while at work, home and in the community.
Students were required to develop inventions as part of a group project in the course under the leadership of Dr. Charlene Blankenship, assistant professor, Department of Rehabilitative Services, who began teaching the course in summer 2005.
Some of the ideas for the inventions came from what was taught in the class about services currently available to people with disabilities and how they might be improved. Other ideas came from awareness of challenges faced by a specific individual with a disability that a person in the group knew.
One group created what they called a "Go Along Buddy," an apron with numerous pockets and interchangeable parts.
"The Go Along Buddy is versatile," said Marissa Flores, a senior rehabilitative services major. "The apron can be used by children or adults with various disabilities. A child can use the apron with interchangeable toys that can be attached. Adults can use it to carry gadgets, keys, medication or anything else they may need."
Flores said the idea of the apron was based on input from a mother of several adopted children with different disabilities.
"Based on everyday experiences, the mother felt that she needed to help her children focus and avoid wondering off in public places. Her experience was the inspiration to create our invention," said Flores, who along with her group, donated the apron to the woman and her family.
Another group in the course created what they called the "Teletubby Remote," a large remote control made in bright colors that enables the user to press its buttons using a fist rather than using fingers.
"We came up with the idea of this device because we noticed that as technology progresses, remote controls are getting smaller, making it more difficult for people with certain disabilities to use," said Monica Macias, a senior rehabilitative services major.
Another device created by students was described as helping disabled individuals be more independent while they travel and was taken to the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at UTPA to investigate the possibility of getting their idea patented.
Blankenship said she plans to continue requiring students to "invent" assistive devices in the future.
"It gives them an opportunity to closely examine what specific task a person with a disability may need assistance in completing, and it puts the student in the position to be creative in figuring out how to eliminate natural barriers to completion of tasks," she said.
For more information about the inventions or the course, contact Blankenship at 956/318-5244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.