Hampton High School students create adaptive glove to assist middle school teacher

Friday, January 17, 2020 | 11:42 AM

The glove and pen attached to Bethann Dolan’s right hand is simple in design. Yet the independence it has given her has been worth its weight in gold.

“When you go from being completely independent, to being unable to do things for yourself, every little step back toward independence helps,” said Dolan.

Hampton High School sophomores Danielle Sutterlin and Dakota Basista are responsible for that step back toward independence for Dolan. The students designed the glove as part of a national contest for SourceAmerica’s 2020 Design Challenge. Entrants in the challenge were tasked with creating a scalable, replicable innovation with the potential to increase the economic mobility of people with disabilities. Winners of the challenge will be announced in March 2020.

Dolan was diagnosed with transverse myelitis in 2006, a rare, sudden-onset neurological disorder that caused inflammation in her spinal cord that left her a quadriplegic. She spent two years in rehabilitation before returning to her position at Hampton Middle School, where she is a math support teacher.

Since her return to teaching, Dolan has worked with volunteer assistants who helped her complete tasks such as writing on the board, typing and grading papers. She would dictate what was to be written, and the volunteers would complete the task. “To be able to do some of this myself helps to alleviate the burden on my helpers, and it also alleviates any problems in communicating effectively with my students.”

Sutterlin and Basista said there was a lot of trial and error involved in the design process before they came up with a final product that accomplished the intended task. A variety of materials were explored before the pair settled on a soft, breathable cotton fabric and some double-sided Velcro to accomplish their task. Three of the fingers on the glove are sewn together to accommodate the fact that Dolan has no feeling in or use of her hands. The index finger and thumb portions of the glove have a gel pen attached to them for writing. The students decided to use a gel pen because it doesn’t require as much pressure to successfully write with, whereas a traditional ballpoint pen does. Since Dolan has no feeling in her hands, using a ballpoint pen would be difficult if not impossible.

Dolan has limited movement in her shoulder, so the device was designed with stability in mind. An accompanying clipboard, with fasteners on the front to firmly hold papers in place and skid-resistant material on the back to keep it still on the table, are part of the adaptive ensemble. “It’s a lot of simple ideas and materials combined to make this innovative and effective,” said Sutterlin.

The students have been working on their project since October. While they started out with the goal of inventing something that could possibly win the SourceAmerica contest, their focus soon shifted. “As we went through the process of making it, we started to care more about making something that works for (Dolan), even if we don’t win the contest,” said Basista. “Winning the contest is less important than helping her with something she can use for years to come.”

Both students said they are pleased with their final product, but plan to continue working to modify and improve the design if possible to make it even more functional than it is now.

“What these two students have taken the time to do is pretty amazing,” Dolan said. “They’ve not only created something that has improved my ability to do my job more independently but also has helped me at home as well. Just the other night, I was able to use this glove to play Scattergories with my family without any help for the first time in 14 years. That was incredible.”