Concept to solution: Student design improves music therapy at local nursing home

Nov 13th, 2018

By Jackey Locke

Music therapist Deborah Hawksley and Dr. Leonard Lye with the new piano cart.
Concept to solution: Student design improves music therapy at local nursing home

Engineering students Amir Elzaher and Jaffer Alkarim Jaffer were completing their work terms recently when the opportunity to work on some community projects with the Tetra Society came up.

“I was delighted to be selected to assist with a Tetra project as it sparked my interest in design aimed at positive change towards individuals in need,” said Mr. Elzaher.

The Tetra Society is a national organization that produces assistive devices for people with disabilities to achieve independent and fulfilling lives. Dr. Leonard Lye, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, founded the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the Tetra Society in 1996, which has completed more than 100 projects to date.

"When there are several requests for devices, I hire engineering students to work on them as part of their work term,” said Dr. Lye. “I always hire two students so that the students can work as a team.”

On this particular occasion, one of the four projects the students worked on included a piano cart for Deborah Hawksley, St. Patrick’s Mercy Home's music therapist.

Ms. Hawksley conducts group and individual music sessions with residents at the home.

For individual sessions, she often visits residents in their rooms, which means she has to transport a piano, as well as other smaller instruments, all over the building and on the elevators.

“Years ago, they built a box that could transport the piano, but it was heavy and very awkward to move without a handle to push,” said Dr. Lye. “Ms. Hawksley also brings her guitar, her drum and her seat. So everything has to be put on this cart and pushed all over the home.”

Designing a new piano cart for Ms. Hawksley made a significant impact on the students. Mr. Elzaher says his perspective on accessible design has changed drastically.

“I learned that one of the key factors to a successful accessible design is the ability to see the problem from the perspective of the person who has the disability," he said.

"I am humbled that I was able to take part in making Ms. Hawksley’s job less taxing on her health so that she can continue to maintain and improve the quality of the residents’ stay at the home through music therapy.”

Ms. Hawksley says she is "very grateful" to Dr. Lye, the students and the Tetra Society for her new cart. She says it has made a world of difference for the delivery of her music therapy program at the home, especially for some individual residents.

“When I’m doing individual sessions, residents who can play the piano will sit at the piano in their wheelchairs and play with me,” she said. “The new cart can fit their wheelchairs better and they’re able to get closer to the piano.”

'Joy and accomplishment'

As for the students, it was a work term experience they won’t forget anytime soon.

They both credit Dr. Lye and Dr. Oscar De Silva in the engineering faculty and Memorial’s Technical Services division for bringing their designs to life and the clients themselves.

“The work term was a welcome challenge in terms of design and creativity and was very rewarding in terms of the positive impact it had on the individuals and community that we were helping,” Mr. Jaffer said.

“Few words can describe the feeling of joy and accomplishment associated with seeing a simple design go from a concept to a tangible solution tailored to meet the unique needs of a client,” said Mr. Elzaher. “The piano cart put a smile not only on Ms. Hawksley’s face, but also on the staff and residents of St. Patrick Mercy Home.”


Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000