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University of North Georgia hosts Georgia Tech for creative project
Schools team to aid clients with physical disabilities
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University of North Georgia physical therapy students work with Greg Nix as they look to create a device to help alleviate pain in his back. The school’s physical therapy department is collaborating this week with Georgia Tech students to design and create custom devices for people with physical disabilities.

It’s a rare project that unites physical therapy students from the University of North Georgia with industrial design students from Georgia Tech.

The inaugural cREATe collaboration, which culminates at UNG on Friday, does just that.

The collaboration is a weeklong endeavor to provide assistive devices to North Georgia clients who have physical disabilities.

“This is the first year we’ve done the collaboration,” said Alison Alhadeff, assistant professor of physical therapy at UNG. “I’m a Tech alum and a PT, so it was exciting for me. We collaborated for almost a year to bring this together, and it’s been really exciting to see it finally come to fruition.”

Stephen Sprigle, professor in the School of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, brought a class of design students to UNG to participate in the cooperative he planned with Teresa Conner-Kerr, UNG’s dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

Sprigle teaches design, particularly disability design.

“We got to talking and wanted to figure out, is there a way to get design students and PT students together?” he said. “Because they don’t have redundant experience and skills — they have unique and complementary experience and skills.”

On Monday, students were broken into teams of two or three design students from Tech and four or five physical therapy students from UNG, according to Alhadeff. Each team was presented with a client or a project and was given a week to develop a meaningful, effective design.

When the design is complete, the Georgia Tech students will construct the products, and Home Depot in Lumpkin County donated a gift card for supplies and materials. Alhadeff said they expect the products to be complete within three weeks and then delivered free to the patients.

“These students have one stakeholder, one client, one patient, one user,” Sprigle said. “That changes your design, and it makes it a more intimate relationship. You aren’t working with populations or markets or intellectual property, really. You’re just trying to figure out what each client needs.”

One team worked with client Greg Nix, who suffers from lower back pain. The team is developing a transferable seat to make car rides more comfortable for Nix.

Another team worked with Russell Conaway’s family to lift him into bed at the end of the day. Conaway’s parents are aging, and caring for their adult son has become more difficult.

“They are working on something to help his mom and dad, and any other caregivers, pick him up off the floor,” Alhadeff said.

Erin Radcliffe, a third-year student at Georgia Tech, worked on a team developing a project for an 8-year-old boy named Evan, who is developing scoliosis.

“We’re working on an engagement toy for Evan, who has Dandy-Walker Syndrome,” Radcliffe said. “So he has visual impairment and he mostly responds to tactile feedback and auditory feedback. We’re trying to get him to engage in certain activities that are above eye level, which encourages an upright posture.”

Sprigle said the experience is particularly important for his students, because they are not used to working in such an intimate setting with one client.

Radcliffe said the collaboration is a chance for her to hear from physical therapists in a way she never has before.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” she said. “I’m working with PTs on another project I’m working on now, but here I can collaborate with them daily and get their input whenever I need it. It’s incredible.”

Sprigle said this week has been a learning opportunity for him and Alhadeff, as well. They hope to learn from this first collaboration and continue it into the future.

“We want to make this sustainable,” he said. “So we wanted to get through this first one, learn from it, query the students and see if they dug it. Then we’ll do it again next year.”

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