Engineering Solutions for People Living with Disabilities

Three students stand indoors in front of a shredding machine and bypass that they created.
Engineering students Joseph Salgado, Michael L. George and Guillermo Mijancos stand in front of the bypass they created for the Center for Disability Services. (Patrick Dodson)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 28, 2022) – For UAlbany students Guillermo Mijancos, Joseph Salgado and Michael L. George, engineering is more than just a construction tool. It’s a critical way of thinking about solutions that can benefit our lives.

The three electrical and computing engineering majors recently completed their senior capstone project, with a focus on aiding and improving the lives of people living with disabilities.

Their goal: to create a device which would reduce the weight load of workers at the Center for Disability Services’ mail fulfillment center who are tasked with managing the shredding machines.

The bins underneath the machine were such that one person couldn’t lift the refuse into the recycling containers.

“The weight of these bins made it very difficult for the employees to complete their jobs,” said Mijancos, a senior at UAlbany's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) from Mallorca, Spain. “We felt that if we could engineer a way to circumvent the bins, then the workers could concentrate on their main tasks of managing the shredding machine.”

This solution would thereby help the employees become more independent in their jobs, a central goal for the Center for Disability Services.

The system worked. In fact, Mijancos, Salgado and George earned more than just praise for their efforts. They won first place in the CREATE (Cultivating Resources for Employment with Assistive TEchnology) competition, sponsored by New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID).

Three students stand with a $15,000 check from NYSID for their first-place project to help people working with disabilities.

“The capstone experience is a bridge that connects what students have learned in the classroom to the challenges they’ll face in industry or graduate school,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor of Practice Jonathan Muckell, who oversaw the students’ project.  “Not only do our students have the opportunity to solve real problems faced by our industry or research partners, but they can also choose to work on a community-service engineering project.  These students volunteered to make a positive impact for individuals in their community, and I’m extremely proud of their success.”

“By participating in the CREATE competition, our students obtain valuable skills and experience in fully meeting the College’s mission of ‘Science in Service to Society,’” said Kim L. Boyer, CEAS Dean. “We are extraordinarily proud of Guillermo, Joseph and Michael, and look forward to following their successes as they move into the next stage of their careers.”

The competition, which pitted UAlbany’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences undergraduates against students from City College of New York, Manhattan College, New York Institute of Technology and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, tasked the teams with developing prototypes to improve the vocational lives of people living with disabilities.

NYSID covers the cost of student project (up to $1,000) and helps connect the students to local nonprofit organizations that employ people with disabilities. In the case of Mijancos, Salgado and George, that meant working with Albany’s Center for Disability Services. By coming in first, the three won $15,000, and more importantly helped as many as 10 employees gain independence and improve their vocational lives.

“The slogan of the CREATE Competition is ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers Making a Difference Today’,” said Chris Schelin, Director of Operations at the mail fulfillment center. “Thanks to Guillermo, Joseph and Michael, they have helped us hire more employees with disabilities by removing barriers from the workplace.”