the IDeA team at Council of Ontario Universities)

Undergrads bring award-winning innovation to Accessibility Innovations Showcase at MaRS

When these students attended their first live sledge hockey game, they were more interested in watching the players off the ice than on it.

Liam D’Souza, Angela Chen, Mazhar Jabakhanji, and Adithya Prashant were only in their first year of engineering science at the University of Toronto when they came up with their idea for The Swivet. 

The invention went on to win the Parasport and Active Living Award at this year’s Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) Student Competition. 

You can see their concept August 8 through 10 at the Accessibility Innovations Showcase at the MaRS Discovery District. 

“It’s a swivelling cargo trailer that attaches to the back of a wheelchair and allows sledge hockey players to safely and independently carry their equipment,” says D’Souza.

The team developed The Swivet as part of a first-year design course in which they were asked to find a community in the GTA, and then find an opportunity where they could implement a design solution.

“We’re all hockey fans, so we went to an ice rink in Mississauga called Iceland. There was a sledge hockey game going on. We noticed that they were able to carry their equipment independently, but it wasn’t necessarily safely; the players in wheelchairs, specifically,” says D’Souza. “They had baggage all over them. We thought there could be a better, safer way for them to carry this equipment independently.”

D’Souza says that their design accommodates wheelchairs of varying sizes as it The Swivet only clamps to one handle, and that with a different type of attachment, it can also be used by wheelchairs without handles. 

“It keeps all of their luggage at the back, doesn’t interrupt their field of view, and they can easily access it when they need to on demand,” he said. “With just a brisk turn of their wheelchair to the right after unlocking a hinge, the luggage will come up to the player’s side.”

Selected as one of ten finalists, the team went on to showcase their idea at the People in Motion Exhibition, where they took home the top Parasport and Active Living Award – a $1500 prize offered in recognition of the Parapan Am Games taking place in Ontario.

“We were really thrilled. We knew we’d put a lot of work into it. We felt like our work had paid off and we knew it was just the beginning of something good,” D’Souza says.

It was none other than the Honourable David Onley, U of T’s Special Ambassador for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, who presented the award. D’Souza recalls speaking with Onley just prior to the award ceremony.

“He was really encouraging. He told us we had a good idea. He’s really receptive to new designs and innovations, especially by young people,” D’Souza said.

D’Souza says the team members faced their fair share of challenges developing the Swivet.    

 “There were design challenges, and there were also times when we thought it just wouldn’t work, that no one would buy into it. That was one of the challenges –just that we really had to persevere.

“The university provided a lot of support. Not just technical support but also a lot of encouragement at times when it seemed that we really had nothing. They kept us going, especially our TA’s. Our professors, Jason Foster and Robert Irish, were really helpful as well. They’re senior design professors at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at U of T. They were of great help to us throughout the process.” 

But what about the name?

“It’s two fold. Swivet combines two words, ‘swivel’ and ‘pivot’. The other part of the name is that it’s actually also a word which means ‘a panic’ or ‘a fluster’. It was a few weeks before our showcase. And you could say we were in a swivet to find a name. So we thought, why not?’”

The team is continuing to refine the Swivet’s design. 

“We hope that one day we can bring a product to market,” D’Souza says. “We feel that we owe it at this point to the community and to others as well – to bring a general product, I want to specify that, not just a product for sledge hockey players. A product that can be used in multiple settings, to carry whatever you need to carry.” 

D’Souza says that he has learned a lot from the experience and not just about design.

“The experience has taught me that if you design something really useful and you put a lot of effort into it, people will take notice. They will respect what you’ve done and help you.” 

Krisha Ravikantharaja is a student at the University of Toronto.

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