Rehabilitation Technology for Developing Countries
For students in Professor Jonathan Pearlman’s Design Fundementals class, Spring Break 2013 was less about rest and relaxation and more about improving the lives of others. After two semesters spent designing, fabricating and testing a new pediatric wheelchair they traveled to a pediatric rehabilitation clinic in Mexico to meet the children who would be using the new wheelchair.
For people with disabilities, assistive technologies (AT) enable fuller participation in society. However, assistive technologies are often abandoned due to poor design and device failure resulting in decreased independence and safety. These challenges are amplified for people with disabilities living in less-resourced countries and rural areas. A combination of poverty and a lack of regulatory bodies to ensure the reliability, usability and durability of ATs give poor people with disabilities little opportunity to express their needs.
Dr. Pearlmans’s students employed their “empathic design” skills to understand the needs of their target population. Students incorporated what they learned about the children’s lives into the design of the wheelchair – how they live, where they go to school, the clinical services provided, their cultural context and the types of daily activities the children engage in.
Through international service-learning, students improved their cultural and global competencies while practicing design for different contexts.
“Empathic Design” principles employed in the engineering of pediatric wheelchairs enable children at this pediatric rehabilitation clinic in Mexico to more fully interact with the world in daily life. Click image to enlarge.
Two pediatric wheelchairs designed, fabricated and tested at Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Lab. Click image to enlarge.