– Mid-Atlantic CIO Forum grant helps find solutions for physical limitations –

Max and the SMA Tiger Research Team; (left to right) Amanda Jozkowski, Molly Lichtenwalner, Sheng Miao, Heidi Feng and Katherine Tang

Meet Max Lasko. He has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a life-threatening genetic disease that affects how the brain and muscles communicate.

Amanda Jozkowski met him when he was just a few months old. The professor of occupational therapy and occupational science knew she wanted to help Max become more independent.

While his movements and communication are limited by SMA, he is as cognitively aware and as intelligent as his peers. Jozkowski recognized that Max and children like him need smart tech systems and devices they can wear to help them communicate, get around in wheelchairs and control their environments.

To design, assess and develop this technology, she created the SMA Tiger Research Team, a collaboration among professors and graduate students from the departments of Computer and Information Sciences, and Speech-Language Pathology, along with initial financial support from the General Endowment for the Jess and Mildred Fisher College of Science and Mathematics.

The next step was obtaining additional funding from the Mid-Atlantic CIO Forum, which issues grants for information technology projects. The board unanimously approved a multi-year grant for the SMA Tiger Research Team. Calling it “a great project to support,” David Powell, CIO Forum grants facilitator, adds, “We hope that the technology can be used for other similar cases.”

With the grant, the team has “conducted a needs assessment; developed a list of desired outcomes such as usability, durability and customizability; explored different types of fabrication materials, switches and computer components; and tested out set-ups for mounting sensors to Max’s body, his wheelchair and around his home,” Jozkowski explains. They are closer to developing products that can be used by other children. With additional support, the team hopes to explore the benefits of 3-D printing and off-the-shelf technologies in creating affordable, usable products.

Max’s parents, Yahnatan and Kristen Lasko, are beyond grateful for the forum’s grant. “Thank you so much for choosing to invest in Max and the many other children who have so much to say but rely on extra technology to help them say it,” they note. “Projects like this give us hope and help to shape a brighter future for these children and for everyone!”

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