PhilaU Collaboration Continues to Benefit Clients with Disabilities

Samantha Doman-Ewerth (right) partnered with industrial design students Jesse Ferrino and Keeley Flack to create a supportive vest and a play mat for Ryder.

Ryder will soon turn two, and, possessing that special power of kids his age, he turns nearby hearts into puddles when his face breaks into a wide smile.

He was on Philadelphia University’s campus on April 5 with his father and mother, Chris and Sarah Simon, the latter a graduate student in PhilaU’s occupational therapy program. Mom was doing what her friends were attempting to do for her son—make life a little more comfortable for a client with a disability. Ryder was born with cerebral palsy, and he was about to try out his new walker with the aid of a support vest that helps him maintain his posture while playing.

For the 14th straight year, PhilaU occupational therapy students have teamed up with industrial design students to work on a project for a real-life client living with a disability. Believed to be the only collaborative project of its nature in the country, the project yields interesting and inventive assistive devices meant to help people accomplish everyday tasks with a little more ease. “The value in this collaboration is the chance to work with real clients who have real needs,” said Wendy Krupnick, director of the occupational therapy program.

The “Sandsure,” created by Mike Day, occupational therapy, and Bob Andrake, industrial design, mimics the foot to help their client Pat, an amputee, walk on uneven sand.

“It helps students hone their evaluation skills to better understand the challenges people face in their everyday activities,” Krupnick said. “It also teaches both the OT and ID students how to collaborate, meet deadlines, choose materials and work with client feedback.” This year, more than 30 clients benefitted from the collaboration, including Ryder.

Some of the symptoms of Ryder’s condition include involuntary muscle contractions, stiff joints and tight muscles. He has also been diagnosed with low vision and seizures. Samantha Doman-Ewerth, an occupational therapy classmate of Simon’s, visited Ryder at home with industrial design students Jesse Ferrino and Keeley Flack. Sam used her training to suggest ways to meet her client’s needs. The team focused on ways to help Ryder independently explore his environment. He needed a walker that supported his frame and toys he could visually track. He got both.

While each client receives the same level of attention and care as Ryder, the ways in which their needs are met are anything but uniform. Moving throughout the project displays in The Kanbar Campus Center Performance Space, you could see any number of interesting and exciting new ideas.

Occupational therapy student Ally Wright and industrial design student Colin Hansel designed “Easy Bed Sheets,” utilizing easy-snap fasteners to help Caroline, an 18-year-old college student living with neuromyelitis optica, make her dorm room bed without getting fatigued.

Pat, a 64-year-old living with a below-the-knee amputation, is a self-described “beach bum,” but after losing his leg and suffering a scary fall, he had all but given up on walking on shifting sand. Mike Day, occupational therapy, and Bob Andrake, industrial design, created the “Sandsure” sandal, a device that straps to the bottom of a carbon fiber prosthetic, like Pat’s, that mimics the movement of the foot and gives the wearer a wider base of support when walking on uneven sand. It’s the only potential wearable device for beach walking available to amputees.

Heather Brown Cadalzo and Nick Marakovits created “The Safety Swing” for nine-year-old client, Bella.

Bella is nine years old. She would like to spend hours each day playing on a swing, but complications from tuberous sclerosis and refractory epilepsy make her favorite playtime activity dangerous. “The Safety Swing,” created by students Heather Brown Cadalzo and Nick Marakovits, supports her upper body while allowing her legs to swing free.

The examples go on. While her son was being evaluated, Sarah Simon was busy working with industrial design student Alex Rentschler to design the “Chair Assist,” an attractive, upholstered piece of furniture that fits over a client’s favorite chair. Pete, 57, who is living with the effects of a stroke, uses the device to help him stay centered on his chair throughout the day despite his right-side paralysis. He loved the addition so much that he was reluctant to let Simon and Rentschler take it to school for their final presentation.

As for Ryder, the photos really say it all. He tried out his new walker and “PhilaU Race Crew” supportive vest with glee. Flack also designed a sensory play mat with easy-to-manipulate toys that appeal to all five senses. “This has been a great collaboration,” Chris Simon said. “It’s really good for him. He likes to play, and this will give him a different way to explore.”

Talk to the PhilaU students involved in the project and you will understand that no project is ever truly finished. Each group had ideas of what they would like to do next, with some exploring the option of putting their devices on the market. With their clients, they explore how subtle improvements can make a meaningful difference. And next year, a new group of students and a new set of clients will do the same. It’s a collaboration that has become a tradition—one that makes PhilaU very proud.

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