Contact: Melanie O’Brien or Ellen Sterner (214) 768-7650

April 30, 2004

Engineering Students Create Devices to Help the Disabled

DALLAS (SMU) — Air travel can be a hassle, but imagine if you had to travel in a wheelchair. How would you maneuver through the narrow aisles? SMU students have designed a gadget that could get you from the jet bridge to your seat in a matter of minutes without a wheelchair.

Since 1996, the final examination for senior mechanical engineering students has been to design devices for the disabled. Students begin with customer need, interviewing the disabled for practical design ideas. Eventually, the design process produces a working prototype to be used by the disabled in the real world.

“The students’ projects touch lives in so many ways,” says Kristi Thomas, president and CEO of Accessology Inc., a partnering company in the design projects program.


• Tuesday, May 4, 9-10 a.m.
University Rooms 1 and 2 (lower level), Umphrey Lee Center, 3300 Dyer Street

• Four projects will be demonstrated by their designers


• The Aisle Porter, which transports you from the jet bridge right to your seat on the airplane.

• Mr. Tidy, a high-tech toilet with sensors in the rim, which prevents a toilet from overflow, eliminating plumbing problems and high water bills.

• The Pill Organizer, a tabletop device that organizes and dispenses pills automatically, is programmed by health care providers and contains up to three weeks worth of pills and dosage information.

• The Riddle Lift can be used both at home and at the doctor’s office. The lift carries you from a wheelchair to the examination table. As a secondary use, the device is also helpful at home when falls occur.

The United Service Association For Health Care Foundation has partnered with the Kent Waldrep Paralysis Foundation since 1996 in granting funds to develop mechanical designs for the disabled. Other collaborators on the projects this year include American Airlines, the Veterans Affairs Hospital of South Dallas and Accessology Inc.

“It’s been really rewarding to see these kids respond – the creativity they’ve shown and the sensitivity they’ve given to the disabled community,” said Kent Waldrep, founder of the Kent Waldrep National Paralysis Foundation.

“We are very proud to be linked with a project of this caliber that promotes engineering skills, empathy, research and vision in designing products for the disabled,” says Lana Montgomery Couch, Foundation President of The United Service Association For Health Care.

Students interact with the disabled, while conducting research, inserting a human side to their design projects. All projects include need analyses, design specifications, budgets and recommendations giving students firsthand knowledge of the design process.

“The purpose of the course is to teach product realization. But what we discovered is we get an added bonus. Students get very sensitized to how engineering can affect the well- being of people,” said Dr. Paul Packman, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the projects program.
For more information, contact Melanie O’Brien at 214-768-7659.


Southern Methodist University is a private university in Dallas with more than 10,000 students and offering degree programs through six schools. More information about SMU is available at