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Mechanical Engineering Students Design Aquatic Wheelchair for Easter Seals

Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This year, a group of University of Evansville mechanical engineering students infused their senior design project with a spirit of giving: They designed, built, and donated an aquatic wheelchair for local children and adults with disabilities.

Three senior members of the team, along with faculty advisor Doug Stamps, UE professor of mechanical engineering, presented the chair to Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center therapists and clients this morning at the Evansville center’s therapeutic pool.

The presentation marks the completion of a senior design project that began last fall, when a 10-person team of mechanical engineering students accepted a unique challenge: Design and fabricate an aquatic wheelchair to enable individuals with disabilities to safely enter and exit the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center’s therapeutic pool, using an existing wheelchair-accessible ramp.

The UE students obtained donations of funding, products, and services for the project, and spent months researching, designing, fabricating, building, testing, and refining the chair.

Compared to commercially available chairs and one built eight years ago by a different team UE students, this chair features redesigned brakes, a new retractable footrest mechanism, armrests that fold up, and a different wheel placement to add stability. All of the improvements, developed in consultation with Easter Seals therapists and rehabilitation engineer, contributed to the students’ goal of making the chair as safe and user-friendly as possible.

According to Easter Seals pool manager Molly Mackey, up to two or three Easter Seals clients per day will use the chair in their aquatic therapy sessions.

“This service-learning project truly brings engineering design to life, and the team’s dedication to serving the community was key to helping them overcome the challenges that naturally arise during a design project,” said Stamps. “I’m very proud to see them emerge with a high-quality product that will make a difference in the lives of children and adults with disabilities.”

UE students involved in the project include seniors Kenneth Kaufmann (team leader), Kelly Esser, Clint Hoskins, and Sam Mires; and underclass students Melissa Thompson, Luke Zarnoth, Gaby Fifer, Nolan Eliason, Ian Kendrick, and Jessa Ward.

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