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STUDENTS IMPROVE LIFE FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES

11/21/2006 —

Students in Ivan Esparragoza's engineering classes at Penn State Brandywine spent the past year designing a wheelchair which will help make life easier for people with disabilities. The project resulted in a modified wheelchair that "goes up and down," allowing individuals to safely reach objects in high places.

This fall, a small group of Esparragoza's students are working on a specialized wheelchair that can help a person with a disability remain comfortable in her chair throughout the day's activities without the need for painful transitions. Due to past vertebrae issues, the young woman with whom the engineering class is working suffers from neck and spine pain, as well as digestive problems. These conditions make it very uncomfortable when she has to be moved from the wheelchair. Her frustration with this manifests itself in the form of self-injurious behavior. "Our goal is to design a chair that is comfortable, one where she doesn't have to be moved for food and/or daily activities. We can improve this young woman's life by minimizing the number of transitions she faces during the course of the day" said Esparragoza.

The proposed supportive designs being studied will address the chronic health and pain issues that this woman encounters. Dr. Esparragoza and his students are working on this wheelchair project with Melmark, a Berwyn, PA-based, not-for-profit organization that serves children and adults with special needs.

The next project Esparragoza has planned for his students involves the construction of an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator fully accessible for those confined to a wheelchair. For this particular assignment, students at Penn State Brandywine will collaborate with students from universities in Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. The ultimate goal is to have students present their work at an international conference.

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