Friday, May 6, 2022

Student’s Capstone Project focuses on self-sufficiency that benefits others

Windham High School senior Dillon Foley
who has Emery Derifuss Limb-Girdle
Type-4 muscular dystrophy, demonstrates
his mechanical hand-controlled prototype
for those who drive vehicles with disabilities
at WHS' Capstone Project Fair on April 27.
By Lorraine Glowczak

A mechanical hand-controlled prototype for those who drive vehicles with disabilities is considered an impressive feat for almost anyone, but even more so for a high school senior who designs a model for his Capstone Project. As a result, students and staff at Windham High School were impressed with senior Dillon Foley’s hand-controlled model at the WHS’ Capstone Fair held last Thursday morning in the school gymnasium.

Briefly, Capstone Projects are self-directed assignments that “caps” a student’s academic and intellectual experiences, usually during their final year of high school and/or college. The Capstone Project is designed to encourage students to think critically, solve challenging problems and develop everyday life skills that one will use as an adult. This includes connecting their projects to community issues or challenges by serving a specific need through volunteerism or providing a service.

“This project is important to me because I have a form of muscular dystrophy, and if there was an affordable form of hand controls readily available, I wouldn't have to constantly worry if it's going to be safe for me to drive,” Foley said. “My goal is to make the hand controls extremely affordable and to donate this invention so others like me can drive safely too.”

Foley was diagnosed with Emery Dreifuss, Limb-Girdle Type-4 muscular dystrophy (MD) when he was in the seventh grade at the age of 14, although he began noticing changes in his body after playing sports when he was in the sixth grade. He states that MD affects his muscles in various ways and with different levels of severity.

“Each day is different. I could either just have a limp and walk funny, have a hard time with stairs, have bad balance, struggle with getting up and down, or my legs just may not work at all.”

Foley explained that the leading cause of his flare-ups is from sitting too long. As a result, it concerns him when he travels for long periods of time.

“I am constantly worrying about how my legs will be and if they will get bad enough while I'm driving, causing it to be unsafe,” he said. “If I travel to visit family who live a couple of hours away, the whole time I'm worried about my legs. Then once I get to my destination, I continue to worry because I don’t know if my legs will get worse before I have to drive home and then be stuck wherever I am. If hand controls were affordable and readily available, I would be free of all this worrying.”

These concerns motivated Foley to solve a personal challenge by choosing a hand-controlled prototype as his Capstone Project. As soon as his proposal was approved this past fall, Foley quickly began his research.

“I watched a couple of videos of existing mechanical hand controls on YouTube, and that helped me develop a basic design,” he said. “After I came up with my basic design, I started taking measurements of my truck and making more in-depth blueprints.”

Foley said that he is very grateful to the organization, MobilityWorks located in Gray, for their help and guidance when he met specific challenges with his design.

Although his prototype is still in the early design phases that continuously require changes and improvements, he will not stop until he finds success. Foley plans to continue production on this prototype while attending the University of Maine - Orono this fall as he works toward his degree in mechanical engineering.

“I plan on bringing this design with me to college, and after four years, I hope the knowledge and experience I gain there will help me build something a little more complicated,” he said. “For my senior year of college, I have to do a capstone project, and I plan on creating another form of hand control that can be used in manuals, whether it be a vehicle or a tractor. I plan on creating an electronic shifting mechanism with a paddle switch to shift like in sports cars - it will be the same basic model that I have now – only improved.”

Foley hopes to patent his design to protect the product he has created, but his desire for a patent has even greater meaning.

“My end goal is to be able to donate the hand controls I create to the Veteran Association (VA), AgrAbility (USDA-funded program that assists and supports farmers and ranchers with disabilities), and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).”

As with all students and their Capstone Projects, Foley has learned more than he anticipated due to his experience and research.

“Since doing this project, I have learned of many different forms of adaptive technology and how different types focus on different effects of disabilities,” he said. “Learning this has helped me adapt my plan for the hand controls in certain ways to try and fit everyone's needs. I hope to provide self-sufficiency to those who have disabilities so they can drive themselves and not have to rely on others to help them constantly.” <

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