Building Better Together
The following is a guest blog by Dr. Catherine Donnelly, Associate Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy's Occupational Therapy program.
The need for interprofessional education is well recognized in health care literature, but there are few examples of health care professionals learning with broader disciplines to solve complex real-world problems. One such problem is our aging population. Our ability to keep seniors safe and living independently in their own homes often requires the use of assistive technology. One potential solution is to look to engineers or occupational therapists, both of which have roles in designing, building, and providing access to technology for members of society. But what if these groups worked together to design a solution?
Up to 75% of older adults report using some form of assistive technology, however, up to half of the prescribed technology is not used, and the rate of non-use increases over time. One of the biggest issues contributing to use is the fit between the person, environment and their equipment and the importance of understanding the complex interplay between person-level factors and the technology. One solution is for engineers, who specialize in design, and therapists, who focus on disability, to work collaboratively with older adult end-users to address this issue.
For the past six weeks, 65 engineering students and 76 occupational therapy students have been working together with older adult end users to design a solution to a past, current, or potential everyday challenge. Last week was the culminating showcase where 24 innovative designs were unveiled. Building Better Together, is an educational initiative between mechanical engineering and occupational therapy created to enable students in each profession to gain a deeper understanding of their respective roles, design collaboratively with older adults and spark innovation.
The Building Better Together initiative was created by Claire Davies and Elizabeth Delarosa from mechanical engineering and Susanne Murphy and Catherine Donnelly from occupational therapy. Mechanical engineering and occupational therapy students attend lectures within their designated home courses and come together in interprofessional teams each week for two hours. During this time, the 24 student teams work on a collaborative design project with older adult volunteers from the community. Volunteers share their experiences and work alongside the student teams to co-develop an assistive technology to address a specific challenge that they have identified.
Building Better Together is a unique opportunity to bring together two professions who would otherwise rarely intersect in the university learning environment. It has been exciting to watch the teams develop over the course of the project and expand the reach of their own professions through their new skills and perspectives. As part of the program, students have had access to emerging technologies including 3D printers through the SparQ Studios Makerspace and Design Studies. We hope this year’s showcase is just the beginning of the design process. Following the 2016 Building Better Together, three devices proceeded to additional prototype development, and two devices are now in use.
Under Claire’s leadership, the project has received development support from the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s Leadership Initiative and Faculty of Engineering and research support through the SSHRC. And, we are already planning 2018 Building Better Together!
For more information, please contact Dr. Claire Davies (firstname.lastname@example.org) or one of the other project leads. We are always looking for community volunteers who have ideas about assistive technology that would help them to age in place. For further pictures of the showcase you can go to the Faculty of Health Sciences and Faculty of Engineering Facebook pages.