Building better ideas: Graduate-led design for accessibility wins student design competition

May 23rd, 2019

By Jackey Locke

From left are Connor Gough, Matthew Lane, Matthew Squires, Katie Gillespie, Jack Chapman and Dr. Naterer.
Building better ideas: Graduate-led design for accessibility wins student design competition

An innovative student group won the third annual Memorial University Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering Design Competition recently.

It was the feather in the cap for the group of spring graduates, who all picked up degrees during convocation ceremonies this week.

In June 2018 mechanical engineering students Jack Chapman and Katie Gillespie, along with second-year nursing student Grace Clarke and fourth-year neuroscience student Emma Dornan, won first place at the Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition.

The competition, held by Universities Canada on behalf of Employment and Social Development Canada, challenges students to use their creativity to develop innovative, cost-effective and practical solutions to accessibility-related issues resulting in communities that are more accessible for persons with disabilities.

Overcoming barriers

The students’ MatHat concept, a head and neck device designed to mimic the feel and support of human hands to provide support for individuals who live with severe cerebral palsy, was designed for 10-year-old Mat Squires, a boy with severe spastic cerebral palsy.

Mat’s current head support device provides inadequate support to allow him to use his eye gaze communication device and has caused pressure sores on his head and neck. The team wanted to build a device – the Mathat – that would overcome these barriers.

In the senior mechanical engineering project, all mechanical engineering students are tasked with a capstone design project in the final year of their program.

Mr. Chapman and Ms. Gillespie partnered with fellow mechanical engineering students Connor Gough and Matthew Lane. The foursome decided to build upon last year’s MatHat design that clinched first place at the IDeA competition.

“That semester we iterated through three major prototypes as part of our senior design project,” said Mr. Chapman.

“We had a few concepts for each portion of the MatHat and we wanted to ensure that the final product easily attached to Mat’s wheelchair. We didn’t want to add any extra hardware.”

Now a team of six, the group designed a revised shape of the shell. They took a plastic cast of Mat’s head, scanned it and transferred it into 3D modelling software.

On the inside of the shell, there are ergonomic pads layered in breathable materials that can be removed, washed or replaced. Dampening pads allow for some spring action to support Mat’s head.

Mr. Chapman says the final product received Mat’s stamp of approval.

“That was huge for us because it not only showed us that Mat could successfully use his eye-gaze device to communicate with us with the MatHat, but that he also liked wearing it.”

Improving lives of others

According to Mr. Chapman, there are over 9,600 people in Canada like Mat who could benefit from having a device like the MatHat.

“We all wanted to do something more with our degree. It’s rewarding to become involved in projects that can help improve the lives of others. With your engineering program, there is always room for projects similar to the MatHat that you can become involved in on the side.”

Dr. Greg Naterer, dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is proud and impressed with the students and their MatHat design.

“Congratulations to all the students involved,” he said. “It’s innovative thinking like this MatHat design that will improve the lives of others. Memorial engineering students are leading the way.”

The team would like to thank the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, MUN Med 3D, Mat Squires, Sarah Hendrickson (Mat's mom), Drs. Oscar De Silva, Leonard Lye and Sam Nakhla from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, for their tremendous support.



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