Date: Thursday, October 26, 2023
This month we spoke the RESNA 2023 Student Design Challenge winner and Masters student Kayden Gill about his experiences and outlook in the world of AT. As the winner of the SDC, Kayden received a $1,000 prize sponsored by the Joey Wallace Scholarship Fund.
How did you first become interested in the world of rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology?
Well, I was born with a genetic disorder that causes a complex set of interacting disabilities. For as long as I can remember I’ve used some sort of assistive technology to go through life. When I was younger it was mostly vision and OT based equipment. My dad was a carpenter, so he used to actually build a lot of my equipment for home exercises, which I always found really cool. As I got older, I used more AT for physical and mobility needs, and was always really interested in what my ATPs were doing and the choices they made.
How did you first hear about the Student Design Competition?
I heard about the SDC through my assistive technology design coursework at the University of Pittsburgh. My professors had every team in my class submit to the competition, as it was a great introduction to design and a chance for exposure to the field in more depth if we progressed to the final round.
Tell us about your AT device, “The Dyno” and what inspired it.
Originally what inspired it was my annoyance with the ever-evolving construction situation where I live. I’ve been a manual wheelchair user for a while and I can do all the wheelie tricks, but it’s not every day that I have to jump off a curb. It’s a little nerve racking, and I’d prefer to keep my skull intact, but I have no safety net. I probably could do it, but when your confidence is shaky, your performance suffers. Having that backup can both increase safety, and your sense of confidence. The problem was that I had removed my anti-tippers ages ago because they weren’t functional, and I couldn’t get enough height when doing a wheelie. When I asked my PT and ATPs for a better anti-tipper, there wasn’t anything available. The Dyno was my solution, a dynamic rear anti-tip device, that moves with you.
What are you most proud of regarding your design process for The Dyno?
Originally this was a project for myself and my needs, so it’s a little narrow. With the help of my professors, especially Todd Hargroder, and by talking with other wheelchair usersand ATPs, I was able to find all of these different groups that would benefit from my design. All I had to do was make some tweaks and suddenly it was a tool that could help new users learn wheelies, biomechanically save OTs and PTs backs, provide support for people who traditionally wouldn’t have been able to do wheelies, and act as a safety net. That transformation was very rewarding and lit that fire to make it as useful as possible.
What was the most beneficial part of the Student Design Challenge?
By far the most beneficial part was getting to be at RESNA and pitching my product to hundreds of people over and over again. I was able to get so much feedback from ATPs, OTs, PTs, RETs, etc. all with different perspectives and helpful advice. I made a lot of connections, and it made me feel like my little project could actually become a real product. It was just an amazing experience to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things that I am, but also carry so many different perspectives.
What excites you most about the future of the field of assistive technology?
AT has been around for as long as Disabled people (Kayden’s preferred term) have been around, so it’s by no means a new field. That said, unlike a lot of technology and healthcare fields that are jam packed with people, drowning in research, and seem hard for prospective students to get a foothold in, AT is wide open and still comparatively small. We have a strong base of information, and thanks to the many leaders and professionals working in this field our foundations are dialed in. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I feel like the industry is at the cusp of an explosive expansion in progress and research. I’m just really excited to see all of the amazing products and research that could come out of that.
What drives your passion for AT?
At the end of the day, for me it’s about the people who use the technology. This is my community, our needs and wants matter, and we haven’t always been included in the design, policy, and implementation process. It’s not just about meeting a functional bar, it’s about meeting the individual, and making something that works for them. It’s one thing for assistive technology to enable participation. It is a whole different ball game when technology drives someone’s passion to engage. That match is what I want to do.
What advice do you have for fellow students looking to pursue a path in AT?
My advice would be to dive in, you won’t regret it. This is such an amazing field full of room for you to grow and make your own path. If you are like me and are both very nerdy but also love to work with your hands and tinker, you can do both here. Find professionals in the field and talk to them. Most are more than happy to speak with a student who’s interested in their work. There is no one way to do pursue a career in AT, you just have to find the way that works for you. For me that meant doing the ARTC certificate program, then getting a masters of rehabilitation technology, and finally pursuing a doctorate in OT. You don’t have to be an engineer, and you also don’t have to be an OT or PT, there are lots of ways to get involved depending on your skills and interests. I’d also be more than happy to talk with any prospective students so feel free to reach out.