Grad students rig writing aid, win international prize

November 8, 2013 — Features

Roxanne Chandler, T.C. ’13, and fellow Graduate School of Education students wanted to help a child with a cleft hand. They needed creativity and a little more than $3.

Roxanne Chandler, T.C. ’13, and fellow Graduate School of Education students wanted to help a child with a cleft hand. They needed creativity and a little more than $3.

A ball-bearing caster, a pencil grip and a wooden cut-out in the shape of a Christmas ornament were all it took to solve the problem, win the prize, and get back to the business of teaching.

Well, inventing the Doodle Bug writing aid also required ingenuity, and some sticky felt for decoration.

In June, eight students in CLU’s Graduate School of Education took the highest honor for a student design project at the RESNA Annual Conference in Bellevue, Wash. As a result, three of them, all LAUSD teachers, will travel during spring break to the Center for the Translation of Rehabilitation Engineering Advances and Technology (TREAT) in New Hampshire to receive MBA-like training and engineering assistance to take their Doodle Bug writing aid to market.

The Doodle Bug came about because teachers in CLU’s master’s program for deaf and hard-of-hearing education wanted to help one student, then 2 years of age, to draw and form letters. With her severely cleft hand, this student was not able to grasp a pencil or crayon with the usual pincer grip.

Using the flat ornament from Michaels as a platform for the hand and the Harbor Freight caster for 360-degree steering, Jane Hankins, T.C. ’13, Jennifer Black, ’10, T.C. ’13, and their colleagues created the fast, stable writing system. It looks a lot like using a computer mouse but feels better for writing, possibly because of the light resistance of pencil to paper.

Each unit costs a little more than $3 to make, not counting the assembly.

Almost immediately, the demand expanded. The Doodle Bug turned out to be useful to a sixth-grader (also in deaf education classes) who broke her hand. The student-inventors then realized that they could help people with rheumatoid arthritis, so that target markets for the writing aid will probably be both young and old.

For a group of people who came to CLU to work with hearing-impaired learners, these graduate students have developed a remarkably broad interest in disability, derived from their students’ diverse needs. Last year, the same group made it to the last round of RESNA’s design competition with their CLU Clip, a simple means of fastening a walking cane to a desk or table to prevent tripping hazards, particularly for blind people.

Since then, the students have distributed roughly 800 CLU Clips, according to Hankins.

Following the crash course next spring in marketing and design for manufacturability, the graduate students hope to get injection-molded or 3-D printed Doodle Bugs – that brand name might change – into stores. Retailers might ask between $8 and $10 for them. The students would also be glad to work with schools and foundations to distribute the writing aids widely.

“Especially in preschool, developmentally, children draw – they scribble. It’s part of developing their language skills: ‘Look, I wrote you a story, Daddy. It says the horsie did this, the horsie did that…,’ and that is part of their language acquisition,” said Black. “They can’t go straight to a keyboard,” she added, with a gesture to the QWERTY letter layout on her laptop. “This is a meaningless thing.”

Along with Hankins and Black, CLU master’s degree students Roxanne Chandler, T.C. ’13, Jeff Westendorf, T.C. ’13, Raven Vilardo ’10, T.C. ’13, Brisi Favela ’10, T.C. ’13, Jeannine Blankinship, T.C. ’13, and Jessica Lopez, T.C. ’13, worked together to create and test the Doodle Bug. RESNA, or Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America, is a professional organization for people interested in technology and disability.