Engineering classes design tools for special needs students

Courtesy Photo /
Alex Hastings and Adam DeVries helped develop this back to school tool that benefits special needs students

Courtesy Photo / Alex Hastings and Adam DeVries helped develop this back to school tool that benefits special needs students

Stephanie Deible

A partnership with the Kent Intermediate School District is affording Grand Valley State University engineering students the opportunity to make life a little easier for special needs students.

Engineering students worked to develop trays to attach to walkers, which would increase the childrens’ independence. KISD physical therapist Michelle Gallery first thought of the Engineering Department because her brother was an engineering student, and often worked on projects with the community while in school.

“On a daily basis, I work with kids who have unique or special needs. I’m always trying to come up with better ways for students to be able to do certain things,” Gallery said. “For kids especially, it’s important to be able to do things on their own.”

Before the work of the engineering program, special needs children would depend on the help of someone else to maneuver or communicate. Now the trays allow them to carry books, music, an iPad used for communication purposes and their lunch.

In addition, children can focus their attention on activities taking place in the classroom rather than moving from one place to another.

“One student was surprised at how helpful the trays were,” Gallery said. “She didn’t think she could have hot lunch because she was afraid to spill. Now hot lunch is an option for her.”

When John Ferris, associate professor of engineering, was approached about the idea, he thought the trays were simple to make but did not anticipate the impact they would have on everyone involved.

“The students working on the trays were surprised at how happy the children were, and how useful they were,” Ferris said. “They really enjoyed working with real clients and using what they are learning in class to help someone.”

The partnership between GVSU and KISD is ongoing, and as new needs arise, the trays continue to be adapted. New features are ensuring that the trays can be used on different types of walkers and for different purposes, the latest addition being a cupholder.

The development of the tray has sparked interest from a couple of different organizations, including Mary Free Bed.

With the help of kick starter, which funds creative projects, the engineering program plans to work with Mary Free Bed in the near future.

“Engineering does a lot of designing and building products for companies or organizations like KISD and the Lincoln Development Center,” Ferris said. “We hope to continue that.”

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