Students redesign locker for girl with cerebral palsy

Monica Scott
Associated Press

Grand Rapids — Brin DeVries, a sixth-grader with cerebral palsy, confidently navigates her wheelchair out of class toward her locker, which she can open more easily after a redesign by high school students.

A team of eight seniors from Kent Career Technical Center’s engineering and architectural design class worked on the project for around five months.

Brin, 11, a student at Excel Charter Academy, never had the traditional combination lock because of her limited motor skills. She had been using a magnetic locker with a modified key, but had problems releasing the latch.

The lock required several steps to open and the 10-second timer didn’t allow her enough time to open it herself without multiple tries, according to the student team. After several prototypes, the students, using a 3D printer, redesigned the lock to combine the three actions into just one motion to pop the mechanism.

“It certainly gives me more independence,” said Brin. “A simple design on a computer turned into something that could help me. It’s pretty amazing!”

Dawn DeVries, Brin’s mother, said anything that allows her daughter more independence also gives her more confidence.

“She is starting to think about her future and what she needs to be independent and not always have to ask for help.”

Brin said she wants to be an engineer so she can help other students with disabilities.

Occupational therapist Patty Surman and recreational therapist Christa Swartz noticed the locker issues early on and tried to tweak the lock. After attending a Tech Center event, Surman asked instructor Larry Ridley for help. The students began working on the project shortly after the school year began.

“I am just extremely thrilled to be a part of a school that is so involved in making its students better, and at the same time trying to make an impact in the community and be a force for good,” said Trevor Corrigan, a senior at Northview High School, who will be majoring in engineering at the University of Michigan.

“We studied Brin and how she moves and how she wanted to naturally open that locker and what would be the best way to implement a design to adhere to that.”

James Warren, a senior at Wyoming High School, said it was a lot better working on a class project knowing it would make a difference in someone’s life.

“It turned from having an average class project to one where we were actually helping someone’s life get easier,” he said. “That’s what drove me the most.”

Brin’s project was presented to Gov. Rick Snyder when he visited the Tech Center in November.

The students, who attend various Kent County high schools, visited the school about five times, observing Brin and testing prototypes. They said they could have made the change more quickly, but are in the class for only two hours a day.

They worked with the lock manufacturer, Hallowell, to get dimensions. Corrigan said they did a few things to redesign the lock, including eliminating a back piece and adding a part that made it easier to insert the key into the magnet and lift up.

Surman said the project gives Brin the independence she needs to grow.

“With Brin being as intelligent as she is, she will be able to do whatever she wants from an academic standpoint, but to give her that other level, any little bit of increased independence opens up worlds and doors for her.”