Dalhousie students honored for device that helps people with disabilities


Four Dalhousie University students were recently honored in a national competition for their design of a device that helps protect wheelchair users from the elements when getting in and out of vehicles.

Kaitlyn Busson, Kerilyn Kennedy, Sammy Pham and Jesimiel Ugbebor placed third Universities Canada Innovative Accessibility Design Competition in the category architectural / industrial design barriers for the hinged door shelter.

The device attaches to the roof of a vehicle and is connected to the door. When the door is opened, a polyurethane laminate cover rolls up between the roof fixing and the door. When the door is closed, the cover retracts.

The experience was revealing, said Ugbebor, a third-year mechanical engineering student.

“Because when you’re out of place [people with disabilities], you wouldn’t really see it the way we see it, ”she said.

The competition encourages participants to develop cost-effective solutions that tackle the barriers and challenges of people with disabilities.

A rendering of the swing door shelter. (Submitted by Kaitlyn Busson)

When the quartet started working together, they weren’t sure what they were going to focus their efforts on. After interviewing 13 people with disabilities, they focused on creating something for wheelchair users with spinal cord injuries.

Paul Vienneau, a disability advocate in Halifax who uses a manual wheelchair, said on bad weather days wheelchair users are faced with wet car and wheelchair seats, which is unpleasant. It also causes more friction on the seats, making it even more difficult for them to get off. In addition, the moisture on the floor means that the wheelchair will not have as much traction.

“Having something above the door opening would make it a lot more dignified and just make getting in and out of the car much better,” said Vienneau, who spoke from personal experiences and did not saw the Swing Door Shelter.

The students started working on the project last fall and submitted their idea this spring. With a new school year underway, they’re not sure what to do with the swing-door shelter, but they would like to continue working on it.

Remarkably, the four have yet to meet in person due to COVID-19 and the fact that they come from different disciplines. Busson is studying bioveterinary science at the university’s agricultural campus in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, while Ugbebor and Kennedy are studying engineering and Pham is studying science at the university campus in Halifax.

If commercialized, the group estimates that the device could sell for between $ 100 and $ 150, and that it could be useful for anyone who needs more time to get on and off vehicles.

Vienneau applauds the potential prize. He said every year he sees stories of innovations like wheelchairs capable of climbing stairs, but the devices would cost around $ 100,000. He noted that his manual wheelchair cost $ 8,600 and the money had to be crowdfunded because he didn’t have insurance coverage for it.

“So many things designed to [people with] disabled, the price goes up dramatically and it’s usually because people have insurance or lawyers and therefore the market will bear those crazy prices, ”he said.

“But if you keep it low, a lot more of us don’t have coverage. And you know, that would make an opportunity for everyone to have it.”

For Busson, finishing third was nice, but she did not compete for the accolades.

“I really liked that we were able to work directly with people with disabilities just because I think it’s a place where I and a lot of people could become more educated, so I was doing it more for the education and leadership skills, ”she said.

“Strength and creativity”

For her, the biggest takeaway from the competition was learning the “strength and creativity” that people with disabilities have and need to exert in their daily lives, whether they are a wheelchair user who is a wheelchair user. getting in and out of a vehicle or retrieving something from a kitchen cabinet. .

“They have to figure out how they’re going to do it in a way that I never would have thought of,” Busson said.

In the middle of a year of distance learning during COVID-19, Busson said it was great to work on a project at a time “when a lot of people were really isolated.” She now hopes to meet her partners.

“It would be great to get to know them in person, maybe party and meet,” she said.

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