Local News

Design Project Aims To Give Disabled Girl More Mobility, Independence

Posted November 24, 2004 3:15 a.m. EST

— Many new devices help people with disabilities enjoy life more.

For several years, Duke students in a biomedical engineering class take on the same assignment -- they find a person with a disability and then design and build a device that will help them live a more active life.

Thanks to such a project, 12-year-old Jane Desmond has new wheels.

Jane has cerebral palsy. Special canes help her get around in most places and at school she uses a walker with small wheels. But they do not work well in the places she really wants to go.

Hiking is something Jane and her mother want to do. Until now, they could not do it together.

Jane's nature trail dream is Dan Choi and Stephanie Chi's class assignment. The Duke students have spent the semester getting to know Jane and matching her desire with equipment that will help her achieve it.

"This walker is actually her old walker. We kind of took it apart and made a lot of changes, like adding these wheels to it," Chi said.

And shock absorbers in the back and the all-terrain walker is tailored to the way Jane moves.

Most equipment for people with disabilities is "one size fits all." But not this device.

"Also, a lot of the equipment that you can get is exorbitantly expensive. I mean, ridiculous. You wouldn't even believe it," mom Betsy McMichael said.

This walker comes free of charge. The payment for students is experience that may become a career.

Jane will use the gift well.

"She likes to explore things, and she loves her independence," McMichael said.

Jane has a lot of mobility that many others with cerebral palsy do not have. She swims, rides horses and does gymnastics. With the new walker, she may even be able to take a dance class.