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SAU Inventions Change Lives

Nicole Rowald '11 explaining her device at the American Occupational Therapy Association's annual conference.

May 2011

Changes, conditions or weaknesses, no matter how slight, interrupt life. Whether dealing with an injured arm or handling macular degeneration, people are forced to adjust themselves or their surroundings in order to lead a meaningful life.

Each year at the American Occupational Therapy Association's national conference, awards are given by Maddak, Inc., to occupational therapists–inventors, really–for the best adaptive device that enhances rehabilitation.

No stranger to these awards–he's won in years past–SAU occupational therapy professor Jon Turnquist won in the professional division, rather unexpectedly, for his Magnetic Display Magnifier. One of his students, Nicole Rowold '11, took second in the student division for her Adaptive TV Remote.

Nicole's device is intended for children with limited or poor coordination in one of their hands. The TV remote requires the child to operate it with two hands. When a child favors the hand that functions properly, the other hand suffers from "learned neglect" and the muscles will atrophy and the joints will become stiff.

"Nicole's device made controlling a TV set a therapeutic experience where the child has to use both hands for every TV function," Turnquist says.

Although Turnquist intended to enter into the contest a much more complicated, robotic feeding device, "what the judges liked was a very simple magnifier (shown below) I invented for a local therapist to help her patients who had low vision," Turnquist says.

stove magnifying deviceOlder stoves have temperature and function dials that can be color coded with bright tape, but newer stoves often have a digital display. Turnquist took a Fresnel magnifying lens and attached magnets to the underside so that it would affix to the stove display. Simple, but highly useful.

For the past 10 years, Turnquist has been inventing devices and thus, changing lives like he did with the Magnetic Display Magnifier.

"We try to make people functional by strengthening them or adjusting their environment," Turnquist says of occupational therapists and adaptive technologists. "I think I have the greatest job in the world. Adaptive technology is a quick and powerful thing. It might take weeks for physical rehab, but in a couple of hours I can make someone functional. I can empower someone in their life role."

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