A toolkit for the handless
Four engineering students at UNC Charlotte have spent the last year assembling a tool kit complete with screwdrivers and a ratchet. That doesn't seem like much of an undertaking, except that all of the tools were made for a fellow classmate who has no hands. Twenty-one year old Stephen Shope has been learning to do a lot of things differently this past year. Last June he lost one arm and part of a forearm in a motorcycle accident. In their place, he wears prosthetics. One has a stand-in for a hand that looks like a top of a clothes hanger. "I just call it my claw. People call it a hook, but I say it's a claw because it's way cooler," says Shope. With the flex of his muscle the claw splits in two and opens up so Shope can hold objects, pick things up, and write. But those tasks don't come easily and some, like using a screwdriver, are near impossible. "I was right-handed. Now I'm right claw. It's a little difficult," says Shope. Shope worked at CarMax before his accident. He cleaned cars, scraped off bar code stickers on windows and attached license plates with screwdrivers. He's had to give that up since there's no way he can hold the tools and perform such fine maneuvers with his claw. That's where Nick Stamey and three other UNC Charlotte engineering students came in. "We just decided on making a toolkit for him so that he'd be able not only to get back to his job, but excel and do the same things he did before he got into his accident," says Stamey. They had a senior project to tackle and they knew they wanted to engineer something that made the world a more manageable place for people with disabilities. The university's disability office volunteered Shope, whom the budding engineers never met. Shope was anxious. While he wanted help, he was worried he'd end up with brainiacs who couldn't relate to him, but they got along well. "They were a good group of guys. They were really cool," says Stamey. "What I liked about it is they asked me about what I needed, instead of just throwing out a bunch of ideas." The small toolkit has two screwdrivers, a ratchet and decal removers, but you wouldn't know it at first glance. Their handles are metal blocks with indentations that match Shope's claw. Stamey says the team navigated unexplored territory in their attempt to make tools that were compatible with the claw. "All I could find was steering wheel attachments, nothing that accommodates to the individual that wants to do stuff around the house or wants to go outside and build a deck," explains Stamey. The ratchet comes easiest for Shope and he's efficient with the screwdrivers. Stamey and the team hope to get a company interested in mass-producing the toolbox. When they do, they may already have someone to endorse it.