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LeTourneau University students prepare to analyze data from Kenya wheelchair study

By Bridget Ortigo
Aug. 22, 2014 at 5:18 a.m.


LeTourneau University senior Benjamin Jonah now realizes how he can use his education to connect with people from different areas of the world.

Jonah was one of seven students on the university's Wheels Project team who went to Kenya to work with disabled children at the Joytown School for the Physically Disabled and study how they use wheelchairs.

"This was my first time out of North America," Jonah, a native of Canada, said this week.

"This really opened my eyes on how I could go places all over the world and use my degree to glorify God's kingdom through my education. This trip really showed me how connected the world really is."

The team recently returned to the United States and is preparing to analyze and evaluate the data obtained from the trip to show wheelchair manufacturers the functionality of the wheelchair types and how effective they are for the children and young adults using them.

"We have all of our data, and next semester we will be looking over that and evaluating it to put on paper and publish for the wheelchair manufacturers," Jonah said. "The children get wheelchairs from the manufacturers for us to do our study."

This is the fifth consecutive year that a team from the university has traveled to Kenya to study the wheelchairs. Other team members who went this year are Melanie Dittmer, Austin McCasland, Sarah Crawford, Elisa Hamm, Danielle Thiessen and Luke Funk.

"I was learning the entire time I was there," Dittmer, a junior, said. "It was a great experience getting to work with the disabled children and getting to know them. I loved every part of it."

Dittmer and her crew spent three weeks performing tests and distributing surveys to the children so they can report back to the wheelchair companies.

"I came back with a huge appreciation for wheelchairs," she said. "In Kenya, wheelchairs are very standardized for everyone, and the terrain is very rough so they need to be well designed."

The group worked with wheelchair companies, such as Hope Haven International and Free Wheelchair Mission, to report functions of the chair found through testing and user feedback.

"Our study helps to facilitate donations of the chairs by the companies in exchange for results of our data," Dittmer said.

Due to the university group's large size, some of the students were able to break off this year and work with children using prosthetics.

"Half of our group worked at the primary school with the children in wheelchairs, and the other half of our team went to the secondary school to do some testing of the prosthetics," Dittmer said.

"They wanted to see how well the children were walking with them and use that information to validate questionnaires and surveys. We would test and retest and then match the data to previous tests."

A team of students hopes to return in May to continue the study with Karen Rispin, associate professor of biology and principle investigator for the Wheels Project.

"Each year we focus on a different study or chair," Rispin said. "We bring students from all different majors, and they receive course credit."

She said the team needs to make sure the chairs fit the disabled children medically and culturally.

"It's hard to get funding for manufacturers to do research on their chairs," Rispin said. "The wheelchairs must fit them, just like a shoe must fit."

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