We have very many students in ALS who, with the help of specialist staff, overcome what others might perceive as barriers to learning and attain great success. In this posting, we celebrate the tremendous achievements of Paul Whittington using his own words and those of his mentor, Jane Merrington.
Towards the end of summer, having been awarded a first class honours degree, BSc Computing, Paul wrote to his ALS tutor, Steevie Watson, with this news: “I thought that you may also like to know that I have been chosen by the Dean of the School of Design, Engineering and Computing at Bournemouth University to receive not one, but two prizes! The first prize is the School Prize for the best undergraduate student in the School of Design, Engineering and Computing. The second prize is for the best final year student in software/communications and this is sponsored by Selex Elsag. The Selex Prize for my ‘overall excellence in my performance and project combined’, but more heavily focused on my final year project. I will be awarded the prizes at my graduation in November at the BIC. It will be great day!”
Steevie comments ‘I first met Paul when he was a prospective student. As you can see, he has made an amazing journey’
Paul’s developmental skills were broadcast to the public in the following article published by the BU marketing & communications team:
A Computing student from Bournemouth University has developed a new smartphone application that will help wheelchair users get into their vehicles more easily.
Paul Whittington has developed the SmartATRS app, which uses smartphones and wireless technology to control the platform lift, automated tailgate and motorised driver’s seat in specially adapted vehicles. The app has been developed for use with the Automated Transport and Retrieval System (ATRS), which enables a powered wheelchair to independently dock onto a platform lift in the rear of a vehicle. Paul, who uses a wheelchair, said the app removes the need for the key fobs currently used to control the process.
He said: “For a person with reduced finger dexterity, the small wireless remote control key fobs used to control the platform lift, automated tailgate and driver’s seat are difficult to operate and could deter potential purchasers.
“As I use ATRS for my independence, my experience identified the need to improve the usability for a disabled user, in particular the small wireless key fobs which I found difficult to use.”
He added that the new app can also be used to control items including automated gates, garage doors and front doors, to make it easier for wheelchair users to get from their vehicles into their homes. Voice control and joystick control have also been applied so that users with reduced finger dexterity can still use the app, which also has a number of safety features – including an emergency stop button.
“I’m very pleased with the final result because SmartATRS has considerably improved the usability of ATRS both for me and potentially other disabled users,” he said. “SmartATRS is significantly quicker and more reliable than using the small wireless key fobs – especially now that I can control the smartphone using the joystick on my powered wheelchair.”
Paul, 22 of Broadstone, has just finished his degree in BSc (Hons) Computing, receiving a First Class Honours. He is now planning to undertake a PhD at BU, researching Human Computer Interaction and continuing the work of his final year project. He also hopes to present his app to the UK manufacturers of ATRS systems, with plans to modify and commercialise it.
He said: “Overall, I found creating SmartATRS challenging and rewarding. “It provided me with a great sense of achievement knowing that the lifestyle and independence of a disabled user had been further improved by a Human Computer Interaction design specifically targeted to overcome the difficulties of the user.”
Paul’s ALS mentor, Jane Merrington, who is pictured here with him, has written the following account of accompanying Paul on his journey at BU:
Paul Whittington is a student who has Cerebral Palsy and though not entirely attached to a wheelchair, uses an electric version for convenience round the University. He has graduated with First class honours in Computing, gaining the prize for the best undergraduate in his year.
I first met Paul as an LSA one month after he had started his degree course, in his first year, in a Database’s seminar that I had been timetabled to cover, not long after starting the job myself. I can remember 2 things distinctly; one that after the session, I went back to the then SWAT team saying ‘why had they timetabled me to cover computing’ when that wasn’t a School I’d said I’d cover!! What on earth was ‘The Red Oracle’ book they were working from? The second thing was that I had never really worked with someone as severely disabled and with a speech impediment, both things of which, I wondered whether I would cope with!
Having subsequently worked with Paul, for the whole of his degree including scribing his exams and mainly writing up his final dissertation, I can say that my initial fears completely went out of the window. My computing knowledge has progressed from being only able to switch the thing on, to probably understanding 60% of that which he was taught. I will never obtain an understanding of Programming or Databases and wouldn’t wish to, as it is not only very technical but in my opinion, is like watching paint dry!
Over time I also found that the way Paul copes with his disability enabled me to work with him with confidence and personally get a lot out of our working relationship. Paul has been an extremely motivated person throughout his degree, applying himself to every task in hand. His final project involved creating a Smartphone App attached to his wheelchair, to get him in and out of his car, where a ‘hand held key-fob’ (that he had been currently using) was insufficient for someone with finger dexterity issues.
The demonstration for his project defence proved that he achieved his objective, creating something that directly benefited his disability in terms of being able to drive and be independent and gained him a second prize from Selex for the best final year project. Unbeknown to me, Paul included a piece in the acknowledgements section of his Project Report which gave me huge job satisfaction from having worked with him but also reflected his great sense of humour as can be seen below.
Jane Merrington and Jackie Kay (Learning Support Assistants) for providing excellent typing support and taking informative minutes from supervisor meetings.
Keith Whittington (the hardware engineer and tester) who enabled complete integration of SmartATRS with ATRS and spent many hours out in the cold and rain during testing only occasionally complaining about software programmers.
Jane Merrington for designing and constructing an alternative user interface for SmartATRS (shown below), which she presented to me on my birthday that had two definite improvements over my design…………no software defects and great taste!
Despite his disability, Paul embraces life as fully as he can and cycles every evening come rain or shine round the neighbourhood he lives in, in order to keep physically fit, which benefits his condition. He also has developed a love of skiing, going once a year throughout his degree to places with more snow than Bournemouth gets!!
Paul has subsequently secured a Vice Chancellors award to study for a Phd and will continue to explore human and computer interaction, taking his final project to the next level and begins in earnest in the middle of November. I am looking forward to continuing to support throughout this time.