Thursday, January 17, 2013

Engineering Students Making a Difference

Joystick Control Jeep
Recently I was asked to sit on a panel at UNC-Chapel Hill with faculty, a hospital based Occupational Therapist, a few parents of children with disability, and an adolescent with disability.  We were speaking with students who were beginning Rehabilitation Engineering Design Projects for their Applied Sciences and Engineering class. The purpose of our panel was to share with the students what they might expect in working with individuals with disabilities, and possibly demystify some of the process.The UNC class is taught by Dr. Rich Goldberg, and is paired with a similar class at Duke University which is taught by Dr. Kevin Caves.

Here is the description of the program from the UNC website:
"In this program, students develop custom assistive technology devices for people with disabilities. Project ideas come from therapists and clinicians in Durham and Chapel Hill, who serve as project advisors throughout the semester. Students spend the entire semester working on the design and development of a device. At the end of the semester, they deliver their device to the therapist and client at no charge. Lectures and discussions in the class focus on engineering design and communications; working with people with disabilities; ethical issues in assistive technology; patents; and other issues."
Also from the website, the program lists several objectives:
This program has several objectives:
  • to provide a practical engineering experience as well as a personally rewarding experience to the student; this may also encourage them to use their specialized skills in the future to benefit individuals with disabilities.
  • to help individuals with disabilities become more independent by designing and building custom assistive technology devices that address their needs.
  • to facilitate learning and reflection about the daily life of an individual who has a disability, as well as the daily lives of the family members, therapists and teachers who are in close contact with them
The variety of projects and clients the engineering students work on is impressive. If you are local, and have a unique need, you may wish to contact Dr. Goldberg or Dr. Caves.

I wonder if other universities offer such classes?

Happy Therapy!


  1. Dr. Goldberg sent me an email to anwer the question: "I wonder if other universities offer such classes?"

    "...there are other schools that have similar programs, all funded by the National Science Foundation:"

    So, if you are interested as to whether such a program exists near you, follow the link above and investigate the Universities nearby.


  2. As a student six years ago in the MSOT program at UNC-CH, we had the pleasure of working alongside these engineering students on their projects. It was a great experience! I wonder if there is still this level of collaboration?

    1. Great question! While I met with the Engineering students there were no OT's present other than us on the panel. I've forwarded your question on to Dr. Goldberg and I will post his answer when I get it.


    2. Dr. Goldberg responded to me via email to the question posted by Anonymous. Here is his answer:

      Yes, we are working closely with the UNC OT program. This year, we have 6 OT "students, each of whom is assigned to a group of BME students to provide a clinical perspective on their project. It's a great collaboration that benefits the BME and OT students."

      Thanks for the question! Jim