Top Three College Engineering Teams Take Inventions to AbilityOne Design Challenge in Washington, DC

By SourceAmerica 06/10/2014

SourceAmerica Announces College Finalists and Their Assistive Technologies Designed to Empower People with Disabilities in the Workplace

Vienna, VA – June 10, 2014: The top three college finalist teams, selected from among 50 entries, for this year's AbilityOne® Design Challenge presented by SourceAmerica® will showcase their inventions at SourceAmerica's annual Grassroots Advocacy Conference June 16-19. Oregon State University, Ohio University, and Weber State University will present their inventions at the annual nationwide design contest that encourages students to develop assistive technologies that empower people with disabilities to break through barriers in the workplace. The high school level winners were announced in February. The competition's sponsor, SourceAmerica, is a national nonprofit that provides employment opportunities for nearly 125,000 people with significant disabilities through its network of over 1,000 nonprofit agencies.

The AbilityOne Design Challenge engineering competition requires students to design and build a functioning prototype of an assistive device or technology that increases productivity for people with disabilities in the workplace or opens a job to an employee who could not previously perform the job's associated tasks. The collegiate level competition concludes June 18 with the announcement of the grand prize winner.

During the 2013-2014 school year, each undergraduate or graduate school team partners with a local nonprofit that trains, hires or provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities. As they research and develop their devices, the students observe and work with persons with disabilities in the workplace. The students must submit a working prototype along with a discussion paper and video presentation featuring their device.

"In addition to creating effective and practical assistive technologies that are already in use in the workplace providing new job opportunities for workers with disabilities," said Bob Chamberlin, President and CEO of SourceAmerica. "The members of the winning teams, as well as all of the Design Challenge participants, have made extraordinary connections with individuals with disabilities and gained new perspectives that may well impact their professional careers and their contributions to society for years to come."

Team representatives will travel to Washington, DC, to present their devices before judges and compete for cash prizes. Prize categories are Best Overall Design, Best Engineering Design, and Best Use of Assistive Technology. The winners will be announced during the Congressional reception Wednesday, June 18 during the 2014 SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center in Washington, DC.

The 2014 finalists are listed below along with a description of their assistive device and the name of the nonprofit agency with which they collaborated.

Ohio University

Project: Lithographic Plate Cleaning Machine Video

Nonprofit Partner: ATCO/Passion Works Studio, Athens OH


Ohio University's "Flower Power" team partnered with Passion Works Studio, a division of ATCO, to create a metal sheet cleaner to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities. The machine gives employees the opportunity to participate in the process of removing ink from lithographic printing plates that are used to create the decorative flower called the Passion Flower. The electrically powered rotary brush system with fluid recycling replaces a gasoline powered pressure washer that could only be used by ATCO staff outdoors in warm weather. In addition to creating two new jobs for individuals with disabilities, the metal sheet cleaner can now be used indoors year-round, increasing the production capacity for Passion Flowers. ATCO staff and employees are currently using the metal sheet cleaner and find it easy and enjoyable to use.


Oregon State University

Project: Mesh Wire Cutter Video

Nonprofit Partner: Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center, Lebanon, OR


Oregon State University's "Mesh Wire Cutter" team collaborated with Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center to develop the wire mesh cutter. The machine cuts wire mesh for use in roof construction. The mesh cutter increased productivity, consistency and accuracy of the cut pieces, while also making the process safer due to additional safety features. The device cuts different sizes of wire pieces eliminating the need for a second machine and allows more people with disabilities to perform this job. The system replaces the previously used manual system and is entirely mechanical, utilizing simple design and manufacturing processes designed to require minimal maintenance over the lifecycle of the device.


Weber State University

Project: Engineered Queuing User Interface and Point of Sale (EQUIP) Video

Nonprofit Partner: PARC (Pioneer Adult Rehabilitation Center), Clearfield, UT


Weber State University in collaboration with PARC created a system that specifically targets employees with Autism and/or Asperger Syndrome who work in fast food. Prior to this software solution being developed, the employees of Runway Ruby's Restaurant were frequently getting food orders incorrect and often experiencing anxiety in their daily activities. EQUIP addresses the employee's experience with over- or under- sensitivity to sound, touch, light and color. EQUIP is a custom Android-based tablet interface which communicates incoming orders in real time, in an easy to understand visual experience that appeals to the employee. As a result, orders are now received and processed in a prompt and efficient manner, with a substantial reduction in employee anxiety and food waste.


Submissions for the AbilityOne Design Challenge must create greater access to employment for people with disabilities in one of the following areas: Computer Access, Environmental Accommodations, Functional Control and Access, Transportation/Mobility, Communication Assistance, Cognitive Accessories; or any device or system that gives access or improved earnings to people with disabilities. To ensure that these devices meet the workforce needs of people with disabilities they must be developed in collaboration with a person with a disability.

By applying their talents, knowledge, innovation and technology to workplace barriers, students demonstrate their dedication to increasing employment opportunities, productivity and earnings for people with disabilities. Previous award-winning devices reflect exemplary application of engineering and design to a workplace challenge, as well as consideration of additional factors encountered by people with disabilities in today’s society—economics, ease of use, safety, universality and availability of technology.

To learn more about the AbilityOne Design Challenge presented by SourceAmerica, please visit: