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WIP: Adaptive Design Engineering to Enable People With Disabilities in the University Setting

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Biomedical Engineering Division Poster Session (Works in Progress)

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Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors

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Tye D. Martin University of New Mexico

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Veronica Mitchell

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Heather E. Canavan University of New Mexico

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Limitations in mobility present a substantial barrier to activities involved with research and academia tasks in STEM including typing, writing, and laptop access and storage. Although the ADA was passed nearly 20 years ago, people with disabilities still experience significant challenges in the educational realm, and their need for adaptive tools has been unmet. Assistive technology is paramount for completion of course work, preparing manuscripts, and communication with colleagues and other researchers. Accessing and maneuvering educational materials and electronic devices such as laptops can often be cumbersome without assistance from accessibility resources or other aid from teachers and fellow students. For instance, students in motorized wheelchairs often struggle with the height and positioning of fixed desks within the university environment.

New course offerings on user-focused design of adaptive disability tools at our major research University in the southwest region of the United States have been established during the last two years for undergraduate and graduate students (N=24) in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. The course work involves team-based problem solving and design of adaptive tools as informed by other students, faculty, and researchers with disabilities. The goal is to apply design-based thinking to actual daily living challenges faced by people in the university environment with adaptive needs. We believe that this presents a novel approach to engineering coursework that has been, until our adaptive design for the community class, relatively unexplored. In combining efforts of accessibility collaborators and people with disabilities on campus who are experts on their own needs, we will be able to provide STEM opportunities to future students with unique adaptive needs who otherwise would be unable to pursue a career path in these fields. We have obtained preliminary evidence that this style of course not only promotes applied engineering skills for enrolled students, but leads to direct disruption of barriers that currently limit the extent of engagement and participation of people with disabilities in STEM fields.

Current approaches to the needs of people with disabilities are typically first order changes, such as moveable desks or tables. These interventions give the wheelchair user perspective and access equal to their colleagues, but they are limited to the site at which the intervention takes place (e.g., the solitary building it is intended for). Our approach would enable second order changes, which removes the barrier entirely. By incorporating student team prototyping projects in our design courses that are bespoke, wheelchair users and others with disabilities will be able to use any classroom or workspace on campus. This is critical to allow those impacted by restricted mobility to gain a more fulfilling and independent educational experience in STEM, and ultimately, the independence that comes with the ability to support him or herself through their future career path.

Martin, T. D., & Mitchell , V., & Canavan, H. E. (2021, July), WIP: Adaptive Design Engineering to Enable People With Disabilities in the University Setting Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38068

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