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Lending a Hand

Research for a senior textile engineering project took students beyond your typical library visits and Google searches. Instead, it had them playing basketball games against Raleigh’s wheelchair basketball league, the Triangle Thunder, and watching the Raleigh Outlaws, the local Blind Bowlers Association’s local league, knock down some pins.

For the past year, a group of about 30 students have worked in teams to create prototypes of products designed specifically for people with disabilities. They partnered with local members of the disabled community to find textile solutions for problems facing those with disabilities – from a more comfortable wheelchair to a new shoe-tying system.

They presented their products last week in a poster board session among members of the local disabled community and industry partners. And the atmosphere of this big end-of-year project was more celebration than stress.

Some projects, such as the sensing vest that assists the visually impaired with walking by providing discrete vibrations when an object is in its path (a safe alternative to cane navigation), were tested by a smiling James Benton, who chairs the Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities in Raleigh.

Benton, who is legally blind, walked from station to station talking with all the students about their projects – many of whom he has been in contact with since the beginning of the year.

“The feedback from people like James Benton was really invaluable. He made us think about some things we hadn’t considered,” said Kenneth Ryan, a student on the “sensing vest” team. “He kept us motivated to create a product that could really be used.”

Watch Kenneth Ryan describe the sensing vest

Benton spent a long time reviewing one group’s bowling assistant rail – designed to be cheaper, lighter and more durable than traditional rails. Benton, an avid bowler, laughed with students Ryland Clark and Oliver Blasberg about his upcoming bowling competition – which both students seemed genuinely interested in attending.

The student research is just one part of NC State’s Textile Products for People with Disabilities (TPPD) program – a new venture with a goal to find textile solutions to common problems experienced by people in the community with disabilities. TPPD plans to invent new products and services and improve existing ones while being committed to encouraging and assisting companies to address the needs of the disabled community.