The mission of the Program for Assistive Technologies for Underprivileged (PATU) is to allow students to practice engineering skills while they develop strong communication and teamwork skills, gain global perspective, and learn social responsibility through projects for persons with disabilities that otherwise could not afford assistance.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another very educational day

What is your first reaction when you hear “we are going to visit a prison in Brasil”…? Well, naturally, there were some anxious nerves about this visit. But I put my faith in Dr. Urish, knowing that she would never take us anyplace we would be unsafe. Though, as the bus made its way up a dirt “road” and we approached the gate, where there were about 30 women waiting to get in to see their husbands, I’ll admit that I got a little nervous. We were all escorted through the gate (before the other waiting women), passed our IDs to the guard, and were wanded before we were greeted by the assistant warden and began our tour. I know just enough Portuguese that I picked up some of the waiting women yelling “Hey, I speak English, let me in, too!” in a tone that was making fun of us and made all the other women laugh. Oy!

The tour was very interesting. As you might expect, the living conditions are not particularly nice. However, they are given plenty of time for recreation as well as education and skill learning. There are two main reasons we went on the tour of this facility. First, Dr. Urish is conducting research where she is comparing Brasilian prisons with prisons in the US. It is very interesting that the recidivism rate in Brasil is much lower than in the US. I would suspect this is for two main reasons. One—the conditions are so harsh while they are in the prison that they really don’t want to return. Two—they have important training programs that teach prisoners skills that help them become meaningful contributors to society-both while they are in prison and after they return to the community. Inmates where we toured learn to make woven goods from Piacava fibers, crafts that they can sell primarily made from wrappers or other items that would be thrown away, and even learn to be cosmetologists. The prison workers sell these items for the inmates at market and 100% of the money goes to the inmate to send home to his or her family. Our OT friend, Camila, oversees these programs. That brings me to the second reason we toured this facility—we would like to (quite a few years down the line) find a way to manufacture our devices for those in need on a larger scale, and think it could possibly be a good addition to the rehabilitation program for the inmates. Well, I think everyone had an interesting experience—some had their hair washed and dried at the salon (Dr. Pierce included!), some had their nails done, many purchased beautiful woven baskets, and we all left the prison safely!

In the afternoon we visited our final clinic (CAPS infantil—they work with all ages of children), and delivered our final device. This clinic was one that truly represents the neediness of the clinics in the area. They have almost nothing to use for therapy and the conditions were rough. Here is where we met Max, our final client. Max is in his early teens years and has a debilitating form of autism. He reacts well to deep pressure applied to his upper torso (like a bear hug), and really loves to play with strings with his hands. Our students (Chris, Jake, Caitlin, and Katelyn) designed two different vests for max. The first is a compression vest, meant to help apply that needed deep pressure without having to have a bear hug. The second is a more fun vest he can wear over the pressure vest with some brightly colored shoe strings attached, Theraputty sewn into the pocket, and Velcro flaps that he can play with. Max responded very very well to both vests! He definitely seemed calmer with the compression vest on, and took well to the over vest and loved the new string! Chris did a really great job interacting with Max and getting to know him. Max’s mom was very happy that we chose him for a project and had us all over for cake and soda. Another great job!

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