Mother teams up with USU engineering student to design face shield for people with disabilities

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SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – A South Salt Lake mother is teaming up with a Utah State University engineering student to design a face shield to protect people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Navigating the new normal hasn’t been easy for Cathie Chansamone. She said it’s crucial for her 35-year-old daughter, Diana who has low-functioning autism to get frequent outdoor exercise. But having Diana keep a face mask on when they’re out and about due to being immunocompromised has been a difficult task.

“A lot of people with autism have other G.I. motility problems, so they’ve got to get out and walk and exercise. They have a lot of other health problems that they need to get out and keep moving,” she said. “But a lot of people with autism also don’t like having clothes touching the skin. They don’t like socks. They just don’t like things touching them so when we tried a regular mask with her, she ripped and tore it.”

Chansamone began getting creative, buying vinyl and using the headband from her magnifying glass to build something more durable and comfortable for her daughter. When she realized more families could use something like this on loved ones with autism, dementia, or other disabilities, she reached out to the Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) in Logan to make a formal design.

“We’re going for materials that you can just pick up at Joann’s Fabric or Walmart or any placewith locally-sourced materials because we’re not a manufacturer, but we want to create a do-it-yourself solution so people can be making their own,” said Dan O’Crowley, UATP Assistive Technology Coordinator and engineering student at Utah State University.

He added, “We’re going for durability so if it gets ripped off or thrown to the ground, it won’t break the first time. We’re also going for comfort so that it stays on. We’re also looking at designs that can be sanitized and reused again and again.” 

For O’Crowley, he said the project is near and dear to his heart because his niece also has autism. His goal is to improve quality of life for those who are sometimes left behind.

“It’s basically been lockdown for my brother, his daughter, and their family. They haven’t gone out of the house with her other than just in their backyard since this whole COVID-19 thing started,” he said. “As I got closer and tied in with working with people with disabilities, I’ve just absolutely loved it. I think they’re one of the most undervalued groups for the amount of the resources they have to offer. I’d like to see that changed and it’s something I work towards everyday at work.”

Chansamone hopes her idea goes beyond her own home and helps other families in need.

“If we can get more of these face shields into the hands of other people, this isn’t just going to help my child, I know this can potentially help thousands, if not millions of other people who are stuck in their homes,” she said. “That way, they won’t to be a prisoner in their own home until a vaccine for COVID-19 comes out.”

O’Crowley anticipates finishing his prototype in about a month. Once completed, he said they’ll release a design with instructions so that community members can make it themselves at home. They also plan to reach out to groups and organizations who’ve been making and donating masks to hopefully help them with distributing face shields to people with disabilities.

“I hope this becomes a safe way for people to get out, enjoy the summer and enjoy life, but still stay safe,” he said.

If you have any ideas, suggestions, or would like to help with their project, you can reach Dan O’Crowley at dan.ocrowley@usu.edu or Cathie Chansamone at ccjd64@gmail.com.

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