New Device Helps Disabled Fort Smith Factory Workers

Press Release Photo
Bob Chamberlin, National Institute for the Severely Handicapped President/CEO presents the award to recent JBU graduate Ryan Helmer.

Siloam Springs, Ark. (June 24, 2010) - Sewing just got easier for handicapped workers at a local factory, thanks to recent John Brown University graduates Ryan Helmer and Drew Thomason who created a device which helps the disabled to better use their hands.

For their work, they won third place in the AbilityOne Network Design Challenge. The award included a $3,000 cash prize and trip to Washington D.C. to present their solution and be honored at a congressional reception.

The national design competition, sponsored by The National Institute for the Severely Handicapped, challenges college students to create a product that will aid disabled people. Helmer and Thomason worked with BOST, Inc. in Fort Smith, Ark. to create a tool that gives a manually disabled worker the ability to sew with an industrial sewing machine. Thomason said that the problem is that some workers at BOST are unable to sew because they lack the ability to pinch the fabric with their right hand.

“We wanted to design this tool which would help many different men and women with different disabilities to grasp material and easily and sew well,” Thomason said. “So, this device gives the workers an easy way to do just that.”

Throughout several of their senior courses at JBU, Helmer and Thomason wrote and received an external grant to fund their work, developed and tested a device to help handicapped workers and submitted a paper describing their work to the AbilityOne Network Design Challenge.

The award’s announcement noted that the design entries this year were of such high quality that the award committee “made an unprecedented decision to recognize seven additional ‘Finalists’ along with our three traditional top awardees.” Will Holmes, JBU Associate Professor of Engineering said even with the high quality of entrants, Ryan and Drew’s work stood out enough to receive third place over teams from schools such as University of North Carolina and Cal Poly.

“Ryan and Drew had to apply knowledge and skills gained throughout their four years here at JBU,” Holmes said. “They completed this project well and this award indicates that are some of the top engineering graduates in the country.”

Helmer and Thomason’s work is making a positive impact on society as their device was developed for a the nonprofit agency in Fort Smith to help disabled men and women holistically by providing jobs, education, and training services.

“It was encouraging to see the progressive change our device created in the factory,” Helmer said. “Because of this product, there is already one man working at BOST who has been able to move from a sorting job into a sewing job. Without this device, he would not have been able to do this.”

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