Students Create Devices to Simulate Impact of Disabilities

By Michelle Fountain, WCSU Communications Liaison

Woodstock Union High School IDEA (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Action) students have learned to be empathetic by designing for it.

Creating devices that simulate the challenges that arise from concussions, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), ALS, and Dyslexia, students hope that experiencing the frustration that comes with these disabilities will bring about understanding, and maybe some coping tools.

The four teams of students will present their design process, prototypes and final products from 8-9:15 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, in the Rhoda Teagle Library at the school and the public is invited to attend.

“The focus is on the design process…to design a physical product that allows people to experience some form of disability,” IDEA teacher Andy Smith explains about the project for the semester. They began by researching various disabilities and their challenges and then each team of two-three students, chose a disability to focus on, going through several prototypes to come up with a device that simulated the symptoms or challenges associated with that disability.

Students had all of the tools they needed to create and test their products due to the school’s new NuVu Innovation Lab. WUHSMS is the first public high school in the country to partner with NuVu, a full-time innovation school for middle and high school students in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that follows the architectural studio model. The current lab is a temporary one, as the new 2,000foot lab should be completed later this winter.

Some students found inspiration for these empathy projects from their own challenges.

“We’re trying to simulate a concussion. All three of us have had concussions,” Owen Tarleton says of the Concussion Helmet he designed along with Kyle Weirether and Ethan Earle.

It took three prototypes before the team came up with their final design. They went from a cardboard box model with glasses to a helmet with adjustable straps and glasses. The final model is the most precise. “We 3-D printed all the parts…it tightens a lot better,” Weirether says noting the first model only fit their heads and they knew it had to be flexible so anyone could try it.

“It gives you all of the symptoms of a concussion at once,” Tarleton says about the dizziness, nausea, and sound delay that are simulated.

“It’s about helping other people learn and making it easy to selfdiagnose for the future,” Earle says of their product.

Carissa Kinsman and Morgan Willis designed an ALS Arm Brace.

“It simulates not being able to move your arm due to the way ALS deteriorates the motor neurons,” Kinsman says.

Justin Kopf and Andy Seiple created an OCD Box for their project. Their final product is a wooden box with shapes that have to be lined up with images on the box within fifteen seconds.

“We want to simulate the stress and anxiety in the brain,” Kopf says about the challenge to do this task when the box is designed, through the use of a motor, pegs, and friction, to fight against the operator trying to make it perfect. “Now I kind of understand why my brother (who he says has OCD) gets so frustrated about certain things,” Kopf adds.

Will Crompton and Angus Farrand created a Dyslexic Keyboard.

“You plug it into your computer and it will randomly put in a letter or number while you are typing. It makes you feel the frustration of dyslexia,” Farrand says.

“They really had agency in their projects,” says NuVu Design and Technology Fellow Dustin Brugmann, who runs the new WUHSMS Innovation Lab. “It was great to push the students to make things even better.”

Weirether noted that their team may have stopped at the second prototype if they had not been pushed to fine-tune it further, but he admits about the final product, “It’s a lot better.”

“At first, I was just learning how to use all the equipment,” Kopf says of the IDEA class in the Innovation Lab. “Then I started to get really involved in learning more about OCD. It’s not just the cool element of making things, but also diving deeper into learning about disabilities.”

This winter, the students will get to dive even deeper when they partner with Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports to create products to help people with disabilities.

“They will work with a potential client,” Brugmann says. He noted they may create a new product or fine-tune one of the devices used to allow people with various disabilities to ski or participate in other sports.

This article first appeared in the January 11, 2018 edition of the Vermont Standard.

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