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May 11, 2001

DEVICES DESIGNED BY SMU MECHANICAL ENGINEERING STUDENTS WILL MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR DISABLED MOTHER

Click on the photos below to view or download high-resolution .jpg versions.


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Dallas attorney Lydia Springer and her daughter, Katherine, pose with mechanical engineering students from Southern Methodist University who designed a special crib for them for their senior design project. Students who worked on the project included (l-r)
Megan Darnold of Charleston, W.Va.; Mark Cochran and Justin Clary of Dallas; and Chris Colaw of Norman, Okla. Cribs currently on the market are difficult for persons in wheelchairs to reach into.

DALLAS (SMU) -- As an attorney, Lydia Springer spends most of her time working on cases that will help people with disabilities.

This year, Springer -- who also is disabled -- decided she herself could use some help. After having a baby, she discovered that she could not find some of the devices she wanted to help her care for her child.

Springer turned to engineering students at Southern Methodist University for help. Each year for the past five years, mechanical engineering students from SMU have designed devices for the disabled for their senior design projects. SMU is the only engineering school in the country where the senior design projects are devoted entirely to devices that could help people with disabilities.

 


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Dallas attorney Lydia Springer and her daughter, Katherine, pose with mechanical engineering students from Southern Methodist University who designed a stroller that can attach to Springer’s wheelchair. Students who worked on the stroller project included (l-r) Elizabeth Bogan of Baton Rouge, La.; Paige Hamilton of Dallas; Matt Krueger of Kansas City, Kan.; Nathan Kelley of Houston; Ryan Johnson of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Justin Westmoreland of Little Rock, Ark.

Springer suggested two projects that might make her life easier -- a stroller that would attach to her wheelchair and a crib that would be easily accessible to a person in a wheelchair. SMU mechanical engineering students took on both projects this year, along with two other projects: a three-wheel vehicle that could be driven by a person in a wheelchair and a power-assisted wheelchair that fills the gap between a hand-operated wheelchair and a fully motorized wheelchair.

Final prototypes of all four devices were presented in May to representatives from the Dallas-based Kent Waldrep National Paralysis Foundation (www.finalvictory.org) and the United Service Association For Health Care Foundation. Each year, the United Service Association For Health Care Foundation gives the Waldrep Foundation $15,000 to fund the senior design projects.

 

Springer said she was "pleasantly surprised" at how well the two devices designed for her worked. For the stroller project, the students took an inexpensive umbrella stroller and designed clamps that could be used to attach it to any wheelchair. The stroller can be attached to the front of a wheelchair so that it faces in either direction. The students also raised the height of the stroller and replaced the wheels on it with sturdier wheels from a scooter .


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Dallas attorney Lydia Springer places her daughter, Katherine, into a crib designed for her by mechanical engineering students at Southern Methodist University. Springer suggested the crib project to the students for their senior design class because cribs currently on the market are difficult for persons in wheelchairs to reach into.

Currently, Springer said she has to carry her baby on her lap. This leaves her unable to put other items such as groceries in her lap, and also can cut off the circulation in her legs after long periods of time.

"The stroller will be more comfortable for the baby as well," she said. Nine-month-old Katherine Springer beamed with joy as her mother was able to push her around in the stroller.

Students estimate that the modified stroller, which can hold up to 40 pounds and still be maneuverable, could retail for under $100.

"One of the goals of our projects is to make things that persons with disabilities can afford," said Paul Packman, the mechanical engineering professor who teaches the senior design class at SMU. "Most adaptive parenting equipment is very expensive."

For the crib project, students bought an existing crib and modified several of its parts before assembling it. They raised the legs 27 inches, added support braces to stabilize the higher crib and converted the side that was supposed to slide down into two shutter-style gates that push to either side. The shutter-style gates can be opened and unlocked with one hand so that Springer can support her child in her lap while opening the crib.


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Nicki Van Tol demonstrates a power-assist wheelchair she helped design for her senior design project in mechanical engineering at Southern Methodist University. The power-assist wheelchair combines the flexibility of a light wheelchair with the mobility of an electric wheelchair at a lower cost than electric wheelchairs.

"This is a very safe product," said design team member Megan Darnold of Charleston, W.Va. Darnold estimates the modified crib could be manufactured for about $160. Existing cribs are difficult for people in wheelchairs because they can not get under them when the gate is dropped down.

The projects selected for this year's designs were chosen from more than 30 ideas proposed to SMU students last fall. The students spent the fall semester conducting market research on the projects and doing preliminary design work. In the spring semester, they developed detailed designs, built and tested the products.

"We are very proud of our partnership with the senior mechanical engineering class at SMU," said Kent Waldrep, president and founder of the Kent Waldrep National Paralysis Foundation. "We have seen a steady growth in the students' appreciation for issues facing people who live with disabilities. Their creativity in designing new products to assist those with disabilities has been amazing."

Projects done in past years that have been popular with their recipients include a voice-activated system for opening outside doors to a home, a school chair that can be adjusted to meet the needs of disabled children, a staple remover for people with limited or no hand strength, a walker for children with cerebral palsy, a device for cleaning the wheels on wheelchairs and a pill dispenser with programmable memory that sorts and distributes medicine at the right time.

 


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Lydia Springer and her daughter, Katherine, demonstrate a stroller that can be attached to a wheelchair. The device was designed and made by mechanical engineering students at Southern Methodist University for their senior design project.

Note to editors:

Students who worked on the stroller project include Nathan Kelley of Houston; Paige Hamilton of Dallas; Justin Westmoreland of Little Rock, Ark.; Matt Krueger of Kansas City, Kan.; Ryan Johnson of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Elizabeth Bogan of Baton Rouge, La.

Students who worked on the crib project include Megan Darnold of Charleston, W.Va.; Mark Cochran and Justin Clary of Dallas; Michael Stern of Houston; and Chris Colaw of Norman, Okla.


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