Occupational Therapy students partner with students from a variety of other university programs to design adapted solutions for clients with disabilities or performance challenges. Students gain invaluable experience by consulting and collaborating with their peers in industrial design, architecture, and interior design programs, as they learn to view their client's challenges armed with a unique perspective and expanded knowledge base.
Occupational Therapy/Industrial Design Collaborative Project
Students from the Industrial Design (ID) and Occupational Therapy (OT) programs join talents in a semester-long project to research and develop adaptive devices. For people living with disabilities, adaptive tools can help them to participate in the activities that are important to them. This annual project provides students with the opportunity to work with real clients who have real needs. Students use their knowledge, evaluation skills, and their understanding of client needs to design a device that will help the client function more easily. The interprofessional project also teaches both the OT and ID students how to collaborate, meet deadlines, set budgets, choose materials and work with client feedback.
Each student project meets a specific need for their clients, such as the “Perfect Sweep,” a modified walker that attaches to the vacuum cleaner to support the user while vacuuming. OT student Ashley and ID student Josh developed the product for a client who wanted to help his wife with household chores. James, a 57-year old man experienced chronic pain in his neck and back that affected his ability to walk. The “Perfect Sweep” supports James’s weight, enabling him to safely maneuver the vacuum in his home while also allowing him the opportunity to conserve energy.
Some of the devices created include:
“Inverted Bicycle Pedals” — Nicholas, age 8, lives with a progressive condition that affects his skeletal muscles and makes him very weak. PhilaU students Rosie (OT) and Robert (ID) designed “Inverted Bicycle Pedals,” which required less foot motion and strength than standard pedals, enabling Nicholas to keep pace with his peers.
“Portable Hands-Free Door Opener” — Anne, age 63, enjoys going out to eat at restaurants, but her multiple sclerosis makes it difficult for her to push open heavy public restroom doors. The “Portable Hands-Free Door Opener,” designed by PhilaU students Sarah (OT) and Josh (ID) allows Anne to access bathrooms independently and on the go. The device is made with a tracking and pulley system to open and close doorways, yet is small enough to carry around.
The “Adjustable Camera Stand” helps avid photographer Bill, age 41, take photographs while in his wheelchair. The device attaches below the armrest so it does not impede the chair’s maneuverability, yet can be adjusted for three planes of movement and operated by remote. Bill lives with spinal muscle atrophy type III, a genetic disease that causes lack of motor function, muscle weakness and muscle atrophy.
In the real-world, occupational therapists are often called on as consultants in the accessible design of homes, business, and public structures. Through collaborative projects our students get this hands-on experience while in the University setting.
Teams comprised of both Interior Design and Occupational Therapy students were assigned a group of users with specific conditions around which they needed to design the physician's office. The user groups ranged from children to older adults with mobility, vision, and cognitive impairments.
The role of the occupational therapy student in this project was to provide:
- Information on the health conditions /diagnoses for the office design project.
- Experiential activities for the Interior Design students.
- Task analyses of activities that someone with a disability would typically need to perform in the physician's office.
- Specific architectural and design considerations to promote participation by the target user group.
Occupational therapy and Graphic Design students worked hand-in-hand on a design project that takes words relating to disability and re-framed them in a way that advocates for positive aspirations and perceptions. Some of the words students have represented include:
Mobility Motivation Assistance
Hope Grasp Adaptation
Integration Partnership Empathy
Students from both disciplines met to brainstorm ideas and identify words to use in the final designs. With insight gleaned from the occupational therapy students' knowledge about disability and occupation, graphic design students created designs to communicate effectively, to express the meaning of the word, to create visual interest and to sensitize the viewer to the meanings.
Fashion Apparel Project
Occupational Therapy students join Fashion Apparel Studies students to collaborate in the design of clothing for children with physical motor difficulties typically associated with cerebral palsy.
Working together, student teams visit the children in their schools and homes to assess the childrens' skills and challenges. The teams subsequently design garments that address the needs of the children and their caregivers, with a goal toward fostering independent dressing.