National Center for Accessible Transportation

What: National Center for Accessible Transportation exhibit at da Vinci Days
When: Today and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Wireless Village, OSU Lower Campus
Go for a spin: Visitors can propel themselves in manual wheelchairs through an obstacle course, or wheel crash dummy "Ted" across various surfaces and slopes

Da Vinci Days exhibit sheds light on disabilities

The narrow aisles and cramped lavatories in airplanes, steps onto buses and the jolts and jerks that accompany train rides — they can make comfortable, dignified public transportation a challenge for anyone.

But for people with disabilities, these inconveniences can pose insurmountable obstacles that hinder their ability to travel.

"Transportation is the key to independence," said Katharine Hunter-Zaworski, director of the National Center for Accessible Transportation and an associate professor of civil engineering at Oregon State University.

To help the general public better understand the hurdles people with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments face, Hunter-Zaworski and others from the center have created a wheelchair obstacle course for da Vinci Days.

Attendees can propel themselves across grass, concrete, side-slopes and various other surfaces. Or if they'd prefer, guests can push "Ted" through the maze.

Ted is a 170-pound anthropomorphic dummy engineer at the accessible transportation center use for biomechanical research projects.

The National Center for Accessible Transportation was founded in October 2003. It combines the efforts of OSU's College of Engineering and College of Health and Human Sciences, as well as Oregon Health & Science University.

The center is supported by research and development funds. It recently received a five year, $4.97 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish the nation's first rehabilitation engineering research center on accessible public transportation.

The center just moved this week from the basement of Graf Hall to a new lab in Rogers Hall. Surrounded by a lavatory from a Boeing 767 aircraft, manuel and power wheelchairs and lifting devices, researchers help design more accessible features for trains, buses and airplanes.

This week, representatives from Boeing visited OSU to discuss plans for the bathrooms in its new 787 aircraft.

"By making airports and transportation systems accessible, you open up the world," Hunter-Zaworski said.

Mike Pavol, assistant professor of exercise and sport science, uses motion capture technology to determine the safest ways to transfer a person from wheelchair.

He measures the amount of force lifting Ted from his wheelchair into an airplane or toilet seat exerts on the transferrers' backs.

Wheelchair transfers are dangerous for the lifters and the people being lifted, Pavol explained, so he looks at ways to reduce the risk. The height of seat backs, the spacing between rows and whether armrests are movable can all affect transfer feasibility.

The center also considers boarding technology and open-caption communication systems. An example of their improved signage designs is a visual paging system for airports — something necessary for people with hearing impairments, but enjoyed by everyone.

"Universal design" is a priority for the center, said Joe Zaworski, co-investigator and husband of Hunter-Zaworski.

"When you do things for people with disabilities, many, many times it's better for everyone," he said.

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