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Utah State University’s 3D printing center aims to create solutions for disabilities

May 10, 2023, 7:08 PM | Updated: 7:12 pm

LOGAN, Utah — For some people with disabilities, the devices they need to help with their everyday tasks may not even exist yet, but a center at Utah State University is looking to change that.

The ability to be independent is huge for Shawnie Christensen, as a unique device helps her to speak through her muscular dystrophy.

“It has been really helpful except when it breaks,” Christensen said.

But that device is unlike the other things she’s used for years. Christensen has a custom-made mechanical arm, which helps her with specific challenges and reach.

So, she goes to Dan O’Crowley for assistance in getting those particular parts.

“People come to me with something that’s never been seen before,” O’Crowley said.

O’Crowley is the Assistive Technology Coordinator at Utah Assistive Technology Program or UATP. He uses his engineering skills to create new solutions for all kinds of people.

People with disabilities can visit UATP and ask for specific, custom-made devices to help them when the needed devices don’t exist.

“Usually, they’re making it here because they’ve kind of exhausted the regular solutions, and they say we have no idea what else to do next,” he explained.

And it’s something that Christensen asked for. The custom-made mechanical arm has broken, and O’Crowley aims to make a better and stronger version.

The new arm is made with some improvised existing parts, like a drill battery, then there are the parts that need to be created.

“Most of the time, projects, when they make it to me, I have never seen before, and I figure it out and solve it,” O’Crowley said.

UATP 3D printing machines have made Christensen’s arm and thousands of other parts possible, greatly expanding what can be created.

“When I see someone using it, and they love using it, that’s rewarding to me,” he said. “That’s when I feel okay, ten out of ten on that one.”

Christensen said she couldn’t wait for the next upgraded version of her little piece of independence.

“I used to pick things up with a hanger, and a broom, but I wanted a simpler way. So I’m so excited to see what they do. I feel it’s going to be a blessing to more people than just me,” she expressed.

The labor at the UATP is free. Clients only pay for the devices or parts, but with 3D printing, O’Crowley said they could build parts for sometimes only pennies.

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Utah State University’s 3D printing center aims to create solutions for disabilities