March 3, 2016

Students use STEM skills to design assistive workplace technology for people with disabilities

March 3, 2016, VIENNA, Va. – SourceAmerica announced today the finalists for its annual college Design Challenge, a national engineering competition where students work together to solve a workplace challenge for people with disabilities through assistive technology.

During a semester, students partner with a local nonprofit agency to help improve productivity in an identified area for its employees with disabilities. The challenge is to devise a device, system, software, or process that meets business needs and is truly usable for the employees. Students apply creativity and STEM skills to design, build, and test their solutions, while keeping workplace accessibility and inclusion in mind.

A panel of Design Challenge judges composed of rehabilitation engineers, members of the disability community, and others with relevant background determined the following schools had standout employment solutions for people with disabilities. They will compete in the finals event on April 13 in Washington, D.C., which is held in conjunction with the high school Design Challenge finals.

The college finalists are:

California State University, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
Nonprofit partner: MVLE (Springfield, Virginia)
Project: Be All You Can Be

California State University, Los Angeles, a finalist in SourceAmerica's Design Challenge for the second consecutive year, worked with MVLE to create a suite of tools to assist employees with disabilities in several job areas, including picking up light objects, folding towels, folding boxes, and refilling restaurant sugar caddies. These improvements enable more employees to perform a wider array of jobs.

Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Nonprofit partner: Durham Exchange Club Industries (Durham, North Carolina)
Project: Hanging with DECI

Duke University worked with Durham Exchange Club Industries to modify two work tasks― straightening wire hangers and opening pill bottles―to minimize the need for complex movement and evaluation skills. Three devices were designed and built: a hanger straightener and two bottle openers. All three devices showed improvements in productivity and made the jobs accessible to those who were not previously able to perform the tasks.

Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon)
Nonprofit partner: Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center (Lebanon, Oregon)
Project: The Pencil Packager

Previously a finalist in SourceAmerica's 2014 Design Challenge, the Oregon State University team created a packaging process for Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center to streamline the packaging of Jolly Supersticks Kinderfest colored pencils. The new packaging system decreases the packaging time from two minutes per box to one minute per box while increasing the comfort and ease of the colored pencil packaging process.

For more information on the Design Challenge, contact Charissa Garcia at cgarcia@sourceamerica.org or 703-584-3940. Visit http://www.sourceamerica.org/design-challenge and follow SourceAmerica on Facebook and Twitter.