By installing a seat-lifting device and hand-operated driving controls, undergraduate engineers at Johns Hopkins have transformed a tractor to allow people with disabilities to help maintain the grounds of a Maryland state park.
The project resulted from a proposal by Donnie Hammett, ranger and manager of the 596-acre Greenwell State Park in St. Mary's County. In keeping with the wishes of the Greenwell family, which donated part of the property, the park has a special emphasis on outdoor recreation for people with disabilities. When some of these users offered to help with trail maintenance, hay rides and other chores, Hammett obtained a federal grant to purchase a tractor, then adapt it for use by people with disabilities.
After buying the tractor more than a year ago, Hammett could not find a business willing to make the alterations, so he sought help from the Baltimore-based Volunteers for Medical Engineering. Because of successful collaborations with Johns Hopkins in the past, the VME referred the tractor challenge to students in the two-semester Engineering Design Project course offered by the Department of Mechanical Engineering. A team of four undergraduates was assigned to confer with the VME and people with disabilities in devising and constructing modifications for the tractor.
The student inventors, all seniors majoring in mechanical engineering, were Alex Forman, 22, of Denver, Colo.; Jon Haslanger, 22, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; Emily Nalven, 21, of Potomac, Md.; and Brian Wolcott, 22, of Harding, Pa. Their modifications cost about $10,000.
A few days before their graduation, the students gave the customized tractor to Hammett, the park ranger who commissioned the project. "This is going to offer some unique opportunities for people in wheelchairs to work as interns, volunteers or even employees on the park's trails," he said. "You don't know what an esteem-builder it's going to be."
To learn more about this, read the press release.
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