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Student project aids children with cerebral palsy

Stefano Pagani (left) of Lexington and Amit Nir of Needham showcased their wheelchair-like mobility device for children in Monterrey, Mexico.

Adrian Llaguno

Stefano Pagani (left) of Lexington and Amit Nir of Needham showcased their wheelchair-like mobility device for children in Monterrey, Mexico.

For the last year and a half, Amit Nir has volunteered after school as a recreational aide for people with developmental disabilities, through the Charles River Center near her home in Needham. Last month, the 17-year-old traveled with classmates to Monterrey, Mexico to help another deserving population: children with cerebral palsy.

Nir is a rising senior at Beaver Country Day School in Brookline, which is a founding partner of Cambridge-based NuVu Studio, through which middle and high school students spend a trimester working with design, computer science, and engineering experts to solve real-world challenges.

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Through NuVu, Nir was one of eight students who field-tested their inventions at Instituto Nuevo Amanecer, then reworked the projects with industrial design student volunteers from Tecnológico de Monterrey, based on feedback from children and their families.

Under the guidance of co-coaches Rosie Weinberg of NuVu and Javier Leal of Mas Libertad Menos Barreras, Nir and classmate Stefano Pagani of Lexington designed a wheelchair-like mobility device for lifting, transporting, rotating, and positioning a child as he or she grows older and heavier — particularly in a narrow, confined space like the bathroom.

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The caretaker cranks a rope-and-pulley system to raise and lower the seat. In addition, the waterproof device has wheels, a high back to which a child may be strapped, and a hole in its center, allowing easy toilet use and water flow in the shower.

Nir said the weeklong trip was “absolutely life-changing,” especially when hearing from the children’s mothers about how much the device will enhance their daily lives. Other student projects included a fashionable lift vest enabling caretakers to easily pick up a child, a skill vest with detachable toys to hone fine motor skills, and an adjustable writing aid that secures the user’s arm into a brace and stretches out muscles.

“It’s really incredible to realize the impact that something you made and planned out for months will make on someone’s life,” she said. “For a long time, I’ve contemplated working with kids with disabilities in some way when I grow older. Now it’s set in stone.”

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.
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