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Students/Faculty News Stephen Lanzi August 11, 2023

CEDHARS Senior Scientist and biomedical engineering Professor Dr. Alan Eberhardt paired with the MENTOR Coffee Club for his students to develop innovative assistive devices to address obstacles people with disabilities face in daily life.

Rising juniors Jade Bustos and Dylan Cothron gave their final presentation Tuesday, July 25, on the products they manufactured in an eight-week hands-on immersion innovation design development, I2D2, course. The team collaborated to construct “Handle It,” adjustable stable walking stick, and “Lightning Lift,” bed raise. Other students in Eberhardt’s class developed products for UAB Hospital.

“I think the students have done an amazing job,” Eberhardt said. “They’ve put some really amazing things together in a short amount of time.”

The course is funded by an NIH R25 grant as part of a biomedical engineering push. Eberhardt explained how he walked the students through the “biodesign approach.” The process consists of looking at needs, state fundamentals, existing solutions, stakeholder and market analysis, intellectual property and regulatory process.

The students began the course by meeting with Coffee Club member Karyn Sullivan, who experienced a stroke, and Collaborative employee John Franks, who does not have use of his legs due to a spinal cord injury, to discuss issues that they could address in the eight weeks.

Sullivan described how she has loss of movement on the right side of her body, so getting up from seated positions, such as toilets out in public that aren’t ADA compliant, can be difficult. Typically, she would use her walking stick to push off the wall behind her to stand up, which is difficult when fatigued toward the end of the day. And even when a bathroom is ADA compliant, the handles may be on the opposite side that she has full function.

“Our needs statement was a way to assist people with lower-extremity disabilities to get up and down from a toilet to provide more independence,” Cothron said.

The students solution was to build an adjustable handle that can attach to the walking stick that Sullivan already uses. The walking stick has a fixed height that is too tall to use to stand from a seated position, but the students’ handle is able to adjust to the proper height at any seated position. The device is attachable to the stick and portable so Sullivan doesn’t have to bring an extra bag out to public.

“Dylan and Jade did a great job,” Sullivan said. “I actually didn’t tell either of the students this yet, but on Friday, I practiced using the device with my home therapist, and we think it’s going to work great for me.”

For Franks, the students were also tasked with developing an assistive device for changing positions – this time from a laying position. Franks described how it can be difficult because of lower-back tightness associated with his SCI.

“Just like our ‘Handle It,’ we had a needs statement: a way to assist paraplegic individuals getting out of bed in the morning, so they can spend less time getting ready for the day,” Bustos said.

Some people with lower-extremity paralysis have ropes attached to the ceiling that they can use to pull up from a laying position, but the students wanted to create a device portable enough that Franks could use while traveling.

The students’ solution, the “Lightning Lift,” has a base that slides under the mattress and above the box spring with an arm that can swing toward the person and away from the bed to not be obtrusive while sleeping.

“We want to give a big thanks to Karyn and John for helping throughout this entire process and being very communicative in everything we asked of them,” Bustos said.

Eberhardt has discussed with Coffee Club coordinator Stephanie Ward a future student-led project to restore a pair of damaged all-terrain wheelchairs at Red Mountain Park. The powerchairs enable people with paralysis or mobility limitations to immerse themselves in nature and explore walking trails.


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