Mitchell: my experience

My experience changed a lot throughout this project. I went from just trying to learn about electronics, a new medium for me, to eventually applying different ways of using electronics to make things easier for me in my apartment.

Along the way my project had a lot of twists and turns, but it allowed me to learn 3 different methods for solving the same problem. At first, Christine and I thought we would use the floor mat-switch method, but since I had a problem with flooding in my apartment we abandoned that idea.

Then, we were going to use servos to flick the light switch, but the PIR sensor (passive infrared/motion sensor) turned out to be a little too fussy and unreliable. So in the end we used PING sensors to measure the distance to my hands and then to trigger the light switch.

This final approach made the most sense in my new apartment. Even though it may not be the simplest solution, I did learn a lot, about electronics, other people, and myself too.

We had quite a few difficulties and challenges along the way: I moved from one apartment to another and so my environment changed during the project. I also think that some of the electronics could be made better for people with big hands since it is difficult for me.

My feelings about the class: I learned that each person is different and has their own way to solving problems, and each is unique and funny. Each one of us has our own way of bringing humor to the program too so it was never boring. I learned that I was a person that needed to learn more and to open my mind.

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Our Trip to Mitchell’s Apartment

Hi! I’m Christine, one of the UArts design students participating in the Arduino for Disabilities Research Project. I have been working with Mitchell during classes, and now we are developing a project, using the Arduino, that will allow Mitchell to turn his bedroom light off and on from his bed. There may be simpler ways to turn off the light but the real point of the project is for Mitchell to develop his Arduino skills. Turning the light off is a big issue in that getting from his wheelchair and into bed is already a difficult task but on top of that Mitchell has to do it in the dark since he can’t turn his light off once in bed.

Today, Mike, Kevin, and I took the bus to visit Mitchell in his apartment, to check out the space we will be working with for his Arduino project, and to learn more about his daily life.

When we first arrived, Mitchell was watching Martha Stewart on the cooking channel.

Mitchell keeping himself up to date on the latest recipes.

We have already learned in class that Mitchell loves to cook, so we took a look at his kitchen while we were there. He keeps everything he needs on the lower 2 shelves, for easy reach. He even has open space under the sink so that he can roll right up to it in his wheelchair.

Mitchell's kitchen

While we were at Mitchell’s, we noticed that many items were kept at his chair’s height, including: the TV and its controls, his computer desk, his drafting table, kitchen items, shelving in his bedroom, laundry.

While there we discovered that Mitchell’s apartment floods during heavy rain, which we’ve had a lot of lately. This means we won’t be able to use floor mats with pressure switches in them as we originally planned. So we might work instead with a PIR (Passive Infra Red motion sensor) as a switch on the wall or bedside.

The water line can be seen along the bottom of the leg panel. This steered us away from placing any electronics on the floor.

While Mitchell showed us his apartment, we learned that he was a crew star, and has won many awards for rowing.

Mitchell, crew champion!

He likes to exercise his upper body, using an over-the-door exercise apparatus. He demonstrated this for us, and it is not easy! (I tried it, unsuccessfully).

Mitchell working on his upper body strength, using his exercise apparatus.

Mitchell also enjoys photography, and was taking a few pictures during our visit.

Mitchell and I sharing laughs while looking at pictures.

This trip confirmed the value of Field Research in the design process. Visiting Mitchell’s space allowed us to make several unexpected discoveries which will definitely inform decisions for his Arduino project, as well as gave us insight into his interests and day-to-day life. This information may color certain design decisions further along…

Who says you can't have a good time while doing research?


Mitchell and Christine

Mitchell and I have been working together for the past 3 weeks! When we first asked Mitchell why he decided to take the Arduino For Disabilities class, he said he loves learning new things, and his mind is always open. He is a smart guy and has shown a lot of  determination. I’ve had to learn to just be patient at times and wait for him to shape and express his ideas which are usually very thoughtful. Like the others in this class Mitchell doesn’t mind discussing his disability. We worked together for weeks before it ever came up that he has lymphedema in his legs. Despite this he is really quite a cheerful person.

Mitchell’s first brainstorming ideas involved using the Arduino to control an annoying fire alarm on the ceiling of his apartment that seems to go off for no reason. It was an eye opener for many of us in this class to consider that fire-alarms are totally our of reach for anyone that uses a wheelchair. Anyway it was great to hear that he was beginning to imagine how the skills he would learn in this class might later be applied to his own life. 

As we started diving into the circuitry and Arduino programs, Mitchell explained that it’s sometimes stressful to get the Arduino to work, but that he does enjoy the physical aspect of being able to control the electronics through touch. I will have to remember this as a design constraint when we start developing his project. At this point his broadest vision is to make his apartment “more 21st century, with lights and music controlled by touch, something that would make people say ‘How did you do that’?”