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Good works: LeTourneau University wheelchair project offers lesson for all

By Longview News-Journal
Jan. 23, 2012 at 10 p.m.


The partnership of LeTourneau University and Hope Haven International Ministries to help improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries is an uplifting story that offers a lesson for all of us.

Hope Haven's ministry includes refurbishing and distributing wheelchairs, having provided more than 90,000 chairs throughout 106 countries. But in developing countries where smooth sidewalks, curb cuts, accessible buildings and laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act are distant dreams, a chair with wheels often is useless. With cobblestone roads - and often no roads or sidewalks at all - the wheelchairs must be able to survive rough use. And for some wheelchair-bound people, even the standard design of a wheelchair itself can be a hindrance.

Enter LeTourneau Assistant Professor Norman Reese and his students in the university's Frontier Wheelchairs Senior Design Project. Working with Hope Haven, the students are using their engineering skills to make a wheelchair better suited for disabled children and the terrain they must navigate. Throughout the fall semester, the team designed and built a prototype foot rest that offers improved adjustability, then conducted testing and stress analysis to ensure durability.

In December, the students took their prototypes to Antigua, Guatemala, to review their modifications with the production supervisor of the Hope Haven factory that makes wheelchairs there. And they visited Guatemalan orphanages, testing their prototype on the wheelchairs of disabled children. Back on campus, they are making modifications and planning to return to the country this spring.

The project not only has offered LeTourneau students a chance to put their engineering skills to work in a real-world environment, it has the potential to make life better for untold numbers of people confined to wheelchairs around the world.

As often is the case at LeTourneau, this teaching project is going far beyond the typical classroom and lab learning experience. It is teaching students cultural sensitivity and giving them experience working with those who have different abilities.

And it should teach all of us that, sometimes, seemingly small changes and caring, along with a willingness to use our own skills for a greater good, have the potential to make big impacts in the lives of others.

The project provides a positive reflection on LeTourneau University and Longview. We look forward to learning more about these good works.

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