CanAssist at the University of Victoria improves lives for those with disabilities

CanAssist at the University of Victoria improves lives for those with disabilities

Walter Cretney uses a scooter to get around and it used to be quite a challenge for his wife Joan to lift the scooter into their car.

But not anymore, thanks to CanAssist, which improves the lives of people with disabilities with individually designed technologies.

CanAssist has designed a unique contraption, called a Hitch Lift, which enables individuals to independently load a manual wheelchair, lightweight scooter or other mobility aid into a vehicle with very little physical effort.

Mike Lewis, a mechanical design specialist with CanAssist, said that the Hitch Lift “mounts to a hitch receiver on the back of a car, so it’s really universal compared to other solutions which require modifications to a vehicle.”

CanAssist is part of the University of Victoria, and works with the students and faculty at UVic, along with partners in the wider community.

“We were able to work with the mechanical engineering students on campus,” Lewis said. “And they developed the prototype, which we were able to use to develop our final device.”

Ravel Hooda is a design engineering intern with CanAssist.

“As a co-op student here, it’s helped me develop new perspective on how to view and assess various constraints and real life problems, and come up with the optimal solution,” Hooda said.

The Hitch Lift is just one of the myriad of simple, life-changing devices created by the CanAssist team since 1999.

“We’re a university-based program that focuses on community service,” says CanAssist’s Executive Director Robin Syme. “And while we definitely contribute back to the university, and of course they make it possible for us to be in this fabulous space, at the same time, we do focus on serving the community directly.

“We develop customized technologies for people with disabilities. The technologies we develop aren’t available in the marketplace, so we’re not competing with things that already exist, but we’re looking at addressing very specific unmet needs of individuals.”

And finding a solution to an unmet need is hugely rewarding.

“People are very passionate about their work here,” says Syme. “And we very much focus on what individuals need and want to do. What’s super-satisfying is seeing people become more independent.”

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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