Senior Design Projects to Aid Individuals with Disabilities: A Promising Practice in Teaching about Assistive Technology

Date Updated

There are over 35 million people in the United States who have disabilities, all of whom have different needs. A lot of the assistive technology they need is either unavailable, very expensive, or requires custom modification. Many people with disabilities cannot afford custom modifications. For the past twenty years the University of Toledo has been introducing students to assistive technology through senior design projects.

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation's General & Age Related Disabilities Engineering (GARDE) program that provides funding for engineering students to construct custom designed devices and software for individuals with disabilities. These projects provide unique opportunities for students, improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, and allow universities to provide a service to their communities.

At the University of Toledo over 600 students have participated in over 150 projects since 1994. Through the class, students engage in self-directed, semester-long group projects for both commercial and private clients. Faculty start identifying project ideas before the semester begins through partnerships with community organizations. Students rank the projects that they are interested in and are assigned to projects in groups. Within groups, each student is assigned a role and submits weekly progress reports throughout the semester. During the eighth week of the semester students present their preliminary designs, and by the tenth week they begin constructing and testing a prototype.

The teams showcase their projects at the Undergraduate Research and Senior Design Engineering Project Exposition. In a recent project, students designed a temporary prosthetic for a nun who had lost all of her limbs following an infection. The students’ design placed first in the 2014 RESNA Student Design Competition.

This course on senior design projects at the University of Toledo is a promising practice in teaching about assistive technology. It exposes students to the topic, leads to improved quality of life for clients, and builds relationships within the community.