Wheelchair Voice Amplifier Project Receives Award

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The interdisciplinary team of Deana McDonagh (an associate professor in the School of Art and Design who is also a faculty member at the Beckman Institute), Skot Wiedmann (from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Alexis Wernsing (an undergraduate working on a degree in art history) will move to the next phase of design and development for a wheelchair voice amplifier. Their product earned an Illinois Proof-of-Concept award that will enable them to evaluate, test, develop, and produce a user-centered device to enable Wernsing to not just communicate with others more readily but also enhance her opportunities to become an educator after graduation. The team includes Rachel Graddy, an occupational therapist at the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services who will collaborate in developing a device that Wernsing and other wheelchair users can operate intuitively with minimal movements to amplify and modulate their voices. Today's vocal tools usually require a separate power source plus a personal assistant to set up the system, and they can be bulky and distracting. The new device, designed with the emotional and functional needs of Wernsing and other testers in mind, will give users greater independence and will empower them by providing immediate access to a broader range of vocal expressions.

Photo by August Schiess (left to right: Deana McDonagh, Alexis Wernsing, and Skot Wiedmann)