Arizona High School Students Take On Assistive Technology Challenge
Eight teams from schools across the Valley recently competed for a $500 prize. But, this challenge was about much more than a title.
High school students designed real-world solutions for everyday problems faced by children with disabilities.
Lisette Leyba’s son, Ezra, was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, a condition characterized by weak muscle tone, feeding difficulties and delayed development.
“When he was born the doctors knew something was wrong with him,” Leyba said. “So we did some genetic testing.”
Students watched a video of Leyba and her son to see how their designs could help real kids.
“The first time we put him in his ADAPT chair and he was able to lift his head up and was able to look around, I was just overcome with joy,” Leyba said. “I was like a little kid at Christmas jumping up and down. I wanted to record everything. It was overwhelming to the point where I had tears in my eyes.”
The high school students picked from a handful of scenarios and were given just a few weeks to design their assistive technology. They also gave “Shark Tank” like presentations to a panel of judges.
David Reno works for Southwest Human Development, a nonprofit that prepares children with disabilities for the future.
“The scenarios presented are typical of the children we do see,” Reno said. “We serve young children with disabilities age birth to five. Everything from cerebral palsy, spina bifida, rare genetic disorders — anything that’s physical that’s preventing a child from achieving their potential.”
Southwest Human Development has an ADAPT Shop that creates custom seating and other equipment for children with special needs.
“I helped start this event after talking to a company and asking them to help improve our equipment,” Reno said. “They said ‘why don’t you get a bunch of smart high school kids to do it?’ So the Makers of Change Assistive Technology Challenge was born.”
Challenge participants were asked to use Internet of Things (or IoT) technology. Those sensors provide feedback and data to track how much the equipment helps disabled children reach their milestones. Elaina Ashton is a junior at Arizona College Prep.
“So we picked Patricia,” Ashton said. “She actually suffers from a syndrome called floppy baby syndrome, which basically means her muscles either in her neck, her arms, her legs are just too weak for her to actually do anything with them.”
Ashton and three other members of her team designed a headrest to help Patricia keep her head up and strengthen the muscles in her neck.
“We have pressure sensors embedded in the headrest, which means that the therapist can see whenever she’s laying her head on a side of the headrest,” Ashton said. “This is more of an overall projectile of how she’s doing for therapists to look at. They can see ‘hey is my therapy session working? Is she having to rest her head less than she did before?’”
Groups were evaluated on the strength of their concept, prototype and use of IoT technology.
Other teams developed solutions for Roger, a fictional child with muscular dystrophy who struggles to lift his arms to play games on his tablet. Another option was Matthew, a child with cerebral palsy and little control of his hands and arms.
A team from Brophy College Prep walked away with the top prize, but they’re not the only ones who could see their technology put into action.
“If we see three, four, five solutions that actually show promise for use, we will absolutely develop every single one of them,” Reno said. “So that in three months from now, when we see a child similar we will be able to add Internet of Things technology onto our equipment.”
So what’s next for the winning team?
“We have Intel IoT engineers ready to help them,” Reno said. “We have our resources of our fabricator and physical therapist and we would love to hopefully take some of these ideas and take them to the next step.”
Reno said he hopes this year’s event is just the first of many to come.