Power Generation Looks To Help More People with Disabilities

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Mary Kate can only move her right index finger. Thanks to Cummins engineers she can use a specially designed joystick to operate a computer.

Meet Mary Kate. Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Mary Kate has very limited mobility and strength. When Cummins Power Generation engineers first met her in 2006, she was only able to move her hand about eighth of an inch.

She loved exploring websites like Barbie, My Little Pony and Disney, but needed her mother to operate the computer on her behalf. She first tried a joystick designed for people with disabilities, but using it required strength that Mary Kate did not have. So, Cummins employees used a two-ton press in one of their labs to adjust a washer setting that dramatically increased the joystick’s activation sensitivity. This allowed Mary Kate to surf the Internet by herself, using one hand to point and the other to click.

Mary Kate’s story is similar to many people around the world who need assistive technology in their daily lives – people with disabilities, people undergoing rehabilitation and seniors. An estimated 15 percent of the world population is disabled, a figure that is rising due to aging populations and a rise in chronic health conditions.

Assistive technology, however, is not widely available, especially in low- and middle-income countries that lack resources and trained personnel. Where available, it is often prohibitively expensive. Understanding the immense need and recognizing that Cummins employees possessed the unique skills to help, Cummins Power Generation has launched a global Corporate Responsibility initiative in 2012 to expand and leverage assistive technology globally.

Cummins employees have partnered with the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Courage Center since 2005. Sue Redpenning, who manages the center, says assistive technology is “any different way that someone does something so they can be as independent as possible.

“It can be using a different strategy or technique, or a piece of equipment, or something to adapt it, so that they’re allowed to work, play, be in their home and do things on their own that they couldn’t do otherwise,” Redpenning added.

In addition to the Courage Center, Cummins has assistive technology partnerships with the Courage Center of Minneapolis, Wuxi Welfare House (Wuxi, China) and Willoughby School (Stamford, UK), with plans to develop more partnerships around the world as the initiative grows.

Tony Satterthwaite, President – Cummins Power Generation and Vice President – Cummins Inc., said he believes the Company can do more. Assistive technology is at the intersection of what the Company can do to make a meaningful difference in the world, he said. It combines the Power Generation Business Unit’s capabilities and strengths; employee skills, interests and passions; and societal needs.

“Cummins Power Generation is a unique company because we have a global footprint, we have a global presence and our capabilities are globally dispersed,” Satterthwaite said. “What excites me about the global nature of this initiative is our ability to bring Cummins Power Generation capabilities to bear all over the world, in all of our facilities.”


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