Carleton students making a difference in Uganda

Carleton industrial design students have created initial designs for devices that can assist those living with disabilities in Uganda. From left to right are Charles Williams, Luis Garca, Jennifer Vandermeer, Zoe Krug and Amanda Cox. (Kristy Strauss Photo)

From wheelchairs-turned-tricycles to gardening assistance devices, a group of Carleton University students are making a difference in the lives of those who are disabled in Uganda.

“Rather than focusing on technology or designs for luxury in the first world, we’re focusing on something that can make a difference,” says Bjarki Hallgrimsson, a professor in the School of Industrial Design, who will be travelling with the students to Uganda from Feb. 8 to 22.

The project, which is in its second year, is a collaboration between Carleton’s School of Industrial Design, the Research, Education, Accessibility and Design (READ) Initiative and CanUgan Disability Support – a local organization that supports people with disabilities in Kasese District of western Uganda.

Four students from the industrial design program chose to participate in the initiative as part of their final fourth-year projects. In Uganda, they will test their prototypes and work together with manufacturers and end-users to further co-develop the designs.

Fourth-year student Jennifer Vandermeer has created a wheelchair prototype that can also be used as a tricycle for long distances in rough terrain.

“I like the challenge,” she says. “They have such limited tools, and this is something that is strong enough in that environment.”

Luis Garca has been working on a gardening chair with wheels that can help those with disabilities garden, and grow their own vegetables.

“If they can’t grow their own, they have to rely on someone else to help them,” Garca says. “This will help them become more independent.”

Charles Williams will be showing his plans for a hand or tricycle-powered nut sheller.

Nuts are an agricultural product that generates the most income, Williams says, and some can spend up to eight hours a day shelling them.

“A machine that shells the nuts can free time to do something more sustainable, like grow more crops,” he says.

Zoe Krug is focusing her project on disabled women, who are usually not educated in Uganda and rely on selling crafts at markets for their income. Krug has created an attachment for a hand-pedaled tricycle that creates a workspace, and also storage space, to transport the crafts to the markets.

Amanda Cox, a master’s student, will research the issue of extreme poverty of people with disabilities, and how assistive devices help them break out of the cycle of poverty and disability.

“The income generation (from assistance devices) is really important because it empowers the people, and helps them create their own income so they can be part of their family and community,” Cox says.

Navin Parekh, founder of CanUgan, says discussions of a partnership between the organization and Carleton took place when the READ Initiative was launched in 2011. For the second year in a row, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is funding the project – which Parekh says has made a difference in the lives of many.

“Assistance devices help people become economically empowered and,right from the beginning, we saw it happening,” he says.

Hallgrimsson adds that the group learned the economic power of these devices last year, and it is becoming more of a focus this year.

“Whether you make 25 cents, there’s a pride, and a different way you fit into society,” he says. “You’re no longer viewed has someone who’s not a provider. Suddenly, you’re a provider.”

For more information on CanUgan, visit: canugan.org.

This entry was written by Kristy Strauss and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media: http://carletonnow.carleton.ca/?p=11780

Kristy Strauss

By Kristy Strauss

Kristy Strauss graduated from Carleton's journalism program in 2009. She is a regular contributor to Carleton Now. She has worked as a reporter for the Kemptville Advance. She currently reports for EMC Ottawa South.

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