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LETU Wheels Team Presents Research at RESNA Annual Conference


LeTourneau University faculty and students recently presented their international research at the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) annual conference held near Seattle.
Associate Professor of Biology Karen Rispin, who is the primary investigator for LETU's Wheels Project studies, and two of her undergraduate biology students presented results through two poster sessions and one podium presentation to the professionals attending the sessions.
The Wheels Project seeks to enable disabled children in low-income countries around the world to have more functional wheelchairs by conducting research to compare brands of wheelchairs using quantitative and qualitative data.
Rispin presented on the development of the Wheelchair Parts Questionnaire. LETU biology students Kristen Huff of Edmond, Okla., and Vanessa Parra of El Paso, Texas, both presented an overview of their findings from the study they participated in May of 2012 in Kenya. Together they presented on the educational impact of the Wheels Project in an assistive technology education session.
Rispin said the conference provided valuable educational benefits to the students.
"The RESNA conference is a unique opportunity to interact with the key international players in assistive technology and wheelchair research," Rispin said. "Watching Kristen and Vanessa directly interact about their research with key figures in global wheelchair research was a special treat. It was great to explain the preliminary results of this year's 2013 Wheels study to Marc Krizac from Whirlwind wheelchairs along with Jaimie Noon and Sue Eitel from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and hear their interest and enthusiasm for what we're doing."
The 2013 Wheels Project compared the Whirlwind RoughRider wheelchair and the Motivation Rough Terrain chair. In 2012, the Wheels Project studied the KidChair made by Hope Haven in Guatemala and a similarly sized pediatric wheelchair made in Kenya by the Association of the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK). In 2011, the Wheels Project compared the Regency Pediatric Wheelchair made in the U.S. and distributed abroad by Joni and Friends with the pediatric wheelchair made in Kenya by APDK. The Wheels Project provides LETU students with hands-on practical experience in conducting research while providing a global service learning opportunity as they travel abroad.
Throughout all of the Wheels Project studies, Rispin has been able to facilitate donations of wheelchairs to Bethany Kids for children at Joytown in Thika, Kenya, where more than 300 children with disabilities attend boarding school and where her students have conducted their research studies.
Rispin added that she was pleased that one of her students who traveled to Kenya with the Summer 2013 Wheels Project, Nicole Leman, who is a recent LETU graduate from Anchorage, Alaska, was able to join the team for the last day of the conference.
"It was also lovely to meet with John Pearlman and Maria Toro from the University of Pittsburg to talk over specific outcomes procedures in our Wheels Project study and their study in Mexico," Rispin said.
She added that she found a rewarding dimension of the conference was having a fellow LETU faculty member and engineering student presenting at the conference.
LETU Assistant Professor of Engineering Norman Reese and undergraduate engineering student Tyler Johnson of Longview, Texas, also presented at the RESNA conference. Reece is the faculty lead for LETU's Frontier Wheelchairs senior design project. Reese Johnson presented a session on senior design projects dealing with assistive technology. Reese also participated in the pre-conference International Standards Organization (ISO) standards meeting for wheelchairs.
"Having Norm and Tyler there representing the Frontier Wheelchairs engineering project was a real pleasure, and one we shared as our LeTourneau University bunch had dinner with Peter Axelson, the founder and director of research and development for Beneficial Designs." Beneficial Designs, Inc. works toward universal access through research, design and education as it develops assistive and adaptive technology to enhance the quality of life for people of all abilities.
The LETU students were grateful for their conference experience. Parra said attending the RESNA conference was very beneficial to her as a student presenting research to other researchers.
"It was motivational to know that there are other researchers who are interested in our study," Parra said. "I was able to meet great people that gave us positive feedback on our poster. Having Norman Reese and Tyler Johnson at the conference was a great experience as they expanded my knowledge on some of the wheelchairs that were displayed in the event room. Their enthusiasm for the use of wheelchairs was encouraging and enlightening."
Huff agreed with Parra on the benefit of attending and presenting at the conference.
"One of the things I enjoyed the most was having conversations with well-known people in the field of assistive technology," Huff said. "Names of people that had only been names before became real faces, real voices, and real encouragement. People were very surprised to hear that I was only in my undergraduate years, and they really appreciated the research that we have been able to accomplish.
"The environment of the poster sessions was low pressure, but also very enlightening," Huff said. "It was rewarding to be able to talk about the work that I did in Kenya, and finally see it all come to the point where it could be presented at such an important conference. I really appreciated the opportunity to expand my horizons and present the research that I have worked so hard on."
More information about LETU's Wheels Project can be found at www.letu.edu/wheels. More information on the RESNA conference can be found at http://www.resna.org/conference.

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