Edwin L. Aguirre
Imagine a “mind mouse” that uses brain waves to allow people with Lou Gehrig’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders to communicate. That was the topic of a poster presented by electrical and computer engineering students Erin Webster and David Harrington at a meeting in Turkey.
UMass Lowell faculty and students recently traveled to Turkey for an international workshop on assistive technology (AT) for people with physical disabilities. The three-day interdisciplinary gathering was supported by a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was held at Yeditepe University in Istanbul.
The workshop explored ways American and Turkish educational institutions could establish joint AT programs and how these could be used to increase service learning in both undergraduate and graduate engineering programs. It also sought strategies for boosting participation by female engineers. In addition, speakers highlighted advanced technologies that could be applied to developing graduate-level research programs in AT.
Profs. Craig Armiento, Alkim Akyurtlu and Martin Margala of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department, as well as Prof. Deirdra Murphy of the Physical Therapy (PT) Department, organized the meeting in collaboration with Turkish faculty members from Yeditepe University and the Haceteppe University in Ankara.
“We brought together educators, researchers, medical experts, health professionals and industry leaders from around the globe to find common ground for AT solutions,” said Armiento, who chairs the ECE Department.
UMass Lowell plastics engineering Prof. Steve McCarthy was a guest speaker, sharing his knowledge and expertise in the commercialization of medical devices. Delivering the workshop’s keynote address was Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders and a recent recipient of an honorary doctorate from UMass Lowell.
Making a Difference in People’s Lives
In addition to their work on the mind mouse, Webster and Harrington talked about their experience in teaching assistive technology at major universities in India last year. (This summer, the two went back to India for a month, visiting campuses and helping set up AT labs.)
UMass Lowell PT doctoral candidates Emma Barnard and Erin Reusch were on hand to present a poster they co-authored with fellow candidates Scott Dery and Benjamin Kim and in collaboration with PT students from Yeditepe University. The poster focused on a comparative analysis of the educational backgrounds of physical therapy students engaged in AT in the U.S. and Turkey. Specifically, it illustrated the cultural and social differences impacting the implementation of assistive technology and how the PT programs in the two countries prepare their students in managing patients with disability in their communities.
“Our goal is to enhance the understanding of each country’s needs at all stages of the use of assistive technology, and to improve patient advocacy and increase the interaction and access to the community for all members with disabilities that physical therapists serve,” said Murphy.