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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Adventures in Brazilian travel, Brazilian BBQ, and Engineering

After an adventurous journey to get here (it’s just not fun if there aren’t a few travel hitches here and there, right?), we are back in Brazil and have hit the ground running. The majority of our crew (17 of 19) arrived yesterday about 1:00PM and enjoyed some swimming and relaxing.  Two of us didn’t get in until midnight and quickly crashed to rest up for today.

After a great tour and cultural orientation (thanks Marcelo!), we hit up my favorite Brazilian steakhouse, Los Pampas.  It’s the kind of place where they walk around with all sorts of grilled meats on a skewer and cut off chunks of them right in front of you.  DELICIOUS!  I must say their desserts are also fantastic.  Great way to start the trip!

In the afternoon I had the unique and wonderful opportunity to be a guest lecturer and conduct a workshop for students in the engineering programs at UESC (Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz).  I have to admit that I was a bit nervous when I saw large posters hanging up with my photo on them!!  Everyone was so excited to have me there, and I even met (and had my photo taken with) many important people.  I feel so honored!

The topic of the presentation was “Engineering for persons with disabilities.” It really meant a lot to me to share my passion with so many (there were nearly 100!) Brazilian engineering students. Did you know:
·         Around 15% of the world's population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world's largest minority.
·         Eighty per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries
·         19 per cent of less educated people have disabilities, compared to 11 per cent among the better educated.
·         The World Bank estimates that 20 per cent of the world's poorest people have some kind of disability
·         30 per cent of street youths have some kind of disability  
·         Unemployment among the persons with disabilities is as high as 80 per cent in some countries.

Those with disabilities experience greater unemployment rates, increased poverty, and even larger mortality rates than persons that do not have disabilities.  It seems that there is a vicious circle—people living in poverty are more likely to have a disability, and if they have a disability they’re more likely to live in poverty. We as engineers can help to break this cycle by providing life-changing technologies to help those with disabilities improve their daily lives and to be able to work for a living; to empower them.

I challenge everyone, especially my engineering students, to find a way to make a difference in the world through service-learning. We brainstormed in small groups to think of projects that they could do right here in their communities to provide a service as well as learn while doing it (we call this Service-Learning).  One group, proposed helping communities develop a system for recycling.  Another suggested researching and implementing systems for improved accessibility in the community. 

It was really wonderful to hear the great ideas the students came up with and just to see how engaged and excited they were about the topic. Several students came to me afterward to ask how they could be involved with our projects.  It’s so very exciting for me to be able to foster excitement for my work with students!

Thank you, Katie Van Blair, for contributing your knowledge of Social Justice to the presentation—I know the students found it fascinating! Thank you, Priscila Suzart, for inviting me to lecture and for all of the planning you did to make it happen.  And thank you, Marcelo Pires de Oliveira, for all of your hard work and seamless translation of my presentation to Portuguese. THANK YOU!!!

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