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5 For Good: High school students develop devices for people with disabilities

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Reposted from WCVB

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by Erika Tarantal

NuVu, an innovation school in Cambridge, recently served as an incubator for high school students developing solutions for people with special needs.

The school hosted a learning session, called a studio, to create products for Lee Cusack, who has cerebral palsy.

Julia Frangioni and Katrina Rojas, seniors at Beaver Country Day in Newton, spent an entire trimester at NuVu. They were part of a group coached by Cusack, who is a professional design consultant.

“You have this end goal and this person to impress,” Frangioni said. “I don’t know, (to) improve their lifestyle even in the smallest to us was really important to both of us.”

After brainstorming, the kids presented ideas to Cusack, who explained why or why not the proposed product would help him, helping the students better understand his needs.

“(And) also understand the implicit bias that they bring to projects having to do with people with disabilities and then to dispel those biases,” Rosa Weinberg said of their goals. Weinberg is the director of studio development at NuVu.

Frangioni and Rojas teamed up to create something to act as a bib for Cusack, but not look like one.

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NuVu

“Before we met Lee, he was wearing a towel while he ate to catch the food and keep his clothes clean, and he felt this was not a fashionable option,” Frangioni said.

“It took a couple iterations, a couple prototypes,” Rojas said.

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NuVu

Designs by other students included a soft physical therapy device and a system for Cusack to play a favorite game without his hands. Mark Vann works with Lee.

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NuVu

“We found younger people were so interested in the world around them and were very open minded, which is very exciting,” Vann said. “If the students take their ideas and their motivation into college and beyond college, they could be very successful as entrepreneurs.”

Cusack said too often, assistive technologies fail to focus on aesthetics. He said by designing devices with fashion in mind, Frangioni and Rojas could change perceptions of people with disabilities for the better.