Students Create Assistive Glove to Help Hampton High School Teacher
Apr 27, 2020 08:47PM
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Seated) BethAnn Dolan (Standing) Ryan Scott, Danielle Sutterlin and Dakota Basista
When Hampton High School sophomores Danielle Sutterlin and Dakota Basista set out to create an assistive glove to enter in Source America, a national engineering design technology competition for high school and college students, they did not realize at the time that their efforts would prove to be life-changing for its recipient.
Sutterlin and Basista’s engineering teacher, Ryan Scott, suggested that the students talk to Bethann Dolan, a Hampton Middle School math teacher, about what could help her in the classroom. In 2006, Dolan experienced a sudden onset of transverse myelitis, a rare neurological, autoimmune disorder that resulted in permanent paralysis.
“In a 15-minute period of time, I became paralyzed from the neck down. What may have happened was I had a cold, and my body attacked my spinal cord instead of the cold,” said Dolan, who was hospitalized for five months, including several months in a rehabilitation facility.
“As a quadriplegic, I have no feeling or use of my hands or legs or anything from the shoulders down. I can move my arms, but that it is all,” she said.
Dolan relies on a team of volunteers from her church and other friends who assist the family with meal preparation, driving, and helping her in the classroom; they even helped raise funds to install an elevator in her home. She also uses a specialized motorized wheelchair to get around.
Following intensive therapy, she was able to return to teaching about two years after the onset, but one obstacle for her as a teacher was her inability to write.
“I’ve had writing devices in the past, but there have been flaws or problems with them,” Dolan explained. “They didn’t stay on my fingers well. And the way they’re made is that they are permanently attached to a dry erase marker; as soon as the marker runs out, you can’t use the whole device.”
In about four months, Sutterlin and Basista designed a versatile cotton glove that is easy for Dolan to use and easy to put on.
“The first time we spoke to Mrs. Dolan about it, we discussed what her challenges were in the workplace, and something she kept bringing up was writing: she couldn’t grade papers,” said Sutterlin. “From there we started to brainstorm. We both said, ‘Let’s look into a glove.’ It was a pretty quick idea we had, but it took a lot of refining to make it what we wanted.”
“We started out by using a baseball glove,” added Basista. “I cut and sewed and glued some Velcro® on to it for the initial one, and that became the primary design.”
“We have the pinkie, the ring, the middle finger and the pointer all sewn together, which makes it easier to get on because she can’t move her hands at all,” explained Sutterlin.
The students made tweaks and adjustments along the way and addressed design challenges as they arose. Basista said that the biggest challenge was figuring out how to exactly position the writing utensil to get the best ink flow.
“We mainly focused on pens since that didn’t require as much pressure as a pencil, but we had to position it so the ink would keep flowing, so she could write with the most ease,” he said.
Sutterlin said that another challenge was trying to imitate grip strength. They affixed pieces of Velcro® on pads for the pointer finger and thumb so that Dolan could hold the pen, which straps on to her palm, wraps around her thumb and attaches to another piece on the back of her hand.
“In addition to the glove, we made a separate clipboard that we cut out of acrylic and put pockets on all four corners to hold papers in place,” Sutterlin added.
For the students, the project became less about the competition and more about helping Dolan solve a problem. And though they did not win the competition, placing in the top 15 as semifinalists, they were proud of their efforts nonetheless.
“It’s pretty rewarding to be able to help others; you can see how much of a difference it made in her life,” said Basista, who intends to become an aerospace engineer. “As she progressed with it and got better with writing, it was really incredible to see that we were able to do something like that for someone else.”
Sutterlin agreed. “It was a very humbling experience for me. It made me think a lot of how I do all this stuff all the time that other people struggle with because of disabilities,” she said. “I can go out there and help people and make their lives easier by designing stuff through engineering.”
For Dolan, the glove has been a gamechanger, not only in the classroom, but at home. Her family loves to play games, and now she is able to participate in games such as Scattergories without help.
“Every little thing I can do to make me more independent is a blessing,” she said. “When you’re in this situation, when every bit of independence is taken from you, anything you can get back is so helpful to you and your family.”