On a campus known for accessibility innovation, Michigan State University’s College of Engineering is a longstanding partner with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD). Working together, RCPD and Engineering faculty facilitate projects that inform students of universal design and the life-changing role that well-designed technology plays in providing access.
The RCPD and the College of Engineering have collaborated for over 25 years on projects providing accessible design while helping future engineers design with inclusion in mind. RCPD Director Michael Hudson recalls, “Early on I was frustrated with how so many products were nearly accessible, and had the engineers considered accessibility, they could have created a more optimal product at no additional cost.” The Engineering Capstone, Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) 480 course, was identified as a starting point to resolve that problem. Michael Hudson and Stephen Blosser (as Assistive Technology Specialist) shared insights on accessible design and facilitated capstone projects that would both inform engineers and solve real-world challenges. Hudson recalls, “these engineers have immense capacity for creativity so showcasing an accessibility mindset and identifying need in the community provided a range of fascinating possibilities and projects through the years.” Engineering students showcase their insights and solutions during Engineering Design Day.
Throughout the semester, from project inception to presentations, MSU faculty and future engineers combine their talents to create possibilities that help MSU positively alter lives. As the RCPD maintains a hands-on approach to accessibility, you may find Leslie Johnson, Assistant Director for Assistive Technology Innovation, working diligently on capstone presentations for the College of Engineering. Likewise, Stephen Blosser, Assistive Technology Specialist Emeritus and Michael Hudson, RCPD Director, routinely facilitate ECE 480 projects to facilitate student success.
“In my role as Assistant Director, Assistive Technology Innovation, I am asked to be a guest speaker in the ECE 480 class each semester. This is something I really enjoy and believe is an important opportunity, not only for RCPD and individuals with disabilities, but for the students and future engineers,” shares Leslie. “Accessible design and universal design benefits those with disabilities, because they can access and use the products more independently. So, by RCPD being involved with ECE 480 it helps generate awareness for how things can be designed to better meet the needs of those with disabilities, which usually leads to broader impacts and helping everyone.”
During Fall semester 2020, the Roadside Electric Scooter Detection and Alert System took center place. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, electric scooters were widely used on campus. This motorized transportation, while an asset to many, was a risk for those who are blind or visually impaired as users sometimes leave them in pathways and outside designated parking areas, causing a significant trip hazard. One ECE 480 team, comprised of Owen Kaechele, An Ye, Chenyang (Gary) Cai, Travis Hamp, and Harry John, sought to minimize the hazards of scooters by partnering with the scooter company Gotcha and RCPD Director Michael Hudson. Using GPS and Bluetooth technology, a smartphone application allows pedestrians to receive an audible alert when approaching a scooter. GPS data from the pedestrians smartphone is compared to scooter location data to alert users of a scooters whereabouts thus removing the element of surprise when scooters are left in pathways. Hudson remarks, “This project provided a technical challenge for engineers, established MSU as a leader in inclusive design, educated scooter manufacturers of an unmet need, and begins to identify workable solutions to help blind pedestrians avoid pathway hazards.”
Honoring the MSU land grant mission, the RCPD staff aligns efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), with a goal to raise awareness of disabilities and how universal design can impact accessibility on a global scale.
One example of this global impact is led by Stephen Blosser and the ECE 480 class. As an emeritus leader, Stephen is working with the Orphans International Helpline organization to help build a hospital which will serve persons in a remote area of Haiti where access to electricity is a rarity. A group of students from a recent capstone class designed a solar and wind electrical power system for this hospital which has been incorporated into the building’s design. All of this is summed up well by RCPD Director Michael Hudson when he says, "Our partnership with Engineering through capstone course presentations and projects combines with staff talents and student interest to create possibilities that help MSU reach our biggest mission of changing lives here and around the world.”
RCPD deeply values our campus partnerships and the College of Engineering holds a special place in our history and ongoing efforts to invigorate accessible mindsets.