In a basement office at Purdue University in Indiana, associate professor of engineering practice Brad Duerstock has designed a special space.
His desk sits up on cinder blocks, slightly higher than all the rest. In the meeting area, tables have adjustable heights. And in the corner, a few feet away, there's an early version of one of his latest inventions, something he calls RoboDesk.
Behind all this is Duerstock's work to make his office space — and the college environment — easier to navigate for people who use wheelchairs. And having an easier way to use laptops or tablets in class has become an indispensable part of it.
RoboDesk is a motorized metal arm that attaches to a rail underneath a wheelchair, smoothly extending and retracting a sort of tray for an electronic device or a notebook — or anything else.
Duerstock, who's been using a wheelchair since he suffered a spinal cord injury as a teenager, was trying to improve on similar mounts that already exist. What he wanted was something that would be light and thin, and extend or fold away neatly in a way that wouldn't make the wheelchair bulkier or harder to maneuver, for instance, through a door or sliding under a desk."I've used mounting systems where I was so kind of physically away from the table, (that) I was more close to the table behind me than the table I was really involved with," Duerstock says. "So it is excluding."