Occupational therapy student receives innovation award at CSU’s Demo Day

Story by Maggie Grayson

Seeing a gap that can be filled, a need that can be met, or a way in which someone can change the world for the better. — A definition that not only describes an innovator but also the heart of Haleigh Chwirka.

Haleigh Chwirka by her Dressing for Success poster at CSU's Demo DayChwirka, a second year master’s student in the Department of Occupational Therapy exemplified this definition and her care for others by recently developing a new product and taking home the College of Health and Human Sciences’ Innovation Award. An event hosted by Colorado State University Ventures, Demo Day gave students such Chwirka and others in the CSU community an opportunity to showcase their entrepreneurial spirit and engage with researchers and local emerging companies in the region.

Inspired to make a difference

So what was Chwirka’s idea and what was her product that won the prize? The Beacon Band. The Beacon Band, a clothing modification, was designed by Chwirka to aid people with cognitive and/or visual challenges to dress more independently.

Beacon Band on a t-shirtAs simple as a strip of fabric with an iron-on adhesive backing, the individual or caregiver will be able to purchase a roll and decide how long to make the fabric. It is then attached to the inseams of clothing to produce a visual cue during dressing. For example, if someone has challenges in sequencing, someone could choose different colors to represent what item needs to be put on first. Or one color could be put on the left arm and another color for the right arm.

The idea was born from Chwirka’s past experiences during her summer fieldwork at a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in New Mexico. She shared of her experience, “I noticed that patients struggled with putting pants and shirts on because of the low contrast of the clothing.” After seeing these challenges, Chwirka was inspired to make a difference.

At first, she thought of creating a high contrast clothing line where the inside of the clothing would be a different color than the outside. However, moving forward this idea transitioned into a clothing modification. “The reason we made it more of a modification is so it is more accessible to a wider population. I don’t want it to be something that the general public can’t afford,” Chwirka shared.

Collaboration of the heart

In the making of the Beacon Band, Chwirka reached out to CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising to help bring her idea to life. She worked with Professor Diane Sparks, along with three students, Julia Liberatore, Katlin Davis and Danielle Urban who added their expertise in textiles and materials. They met monthly to discuss materials, design features and eventually produce a preliminary prototype based off of Chwirka’s original ideas for the a product.

“It was interesting because after some meetings they would have the design component of making something look more appealing whereas I was the more functional side of it. So it was a really great process working with them and learning from each other,” commented Chwirka.

Then after a lot of hard work, Chwirka took her product to CSU’s Demo Day. “It was incredible,” said Chwirka. “It was amazing to be able to walk around and see where people are innovating and also to be able to promote something that I have felt pretty passionate about for awhile now.”

Developing creative solutions

Matt Malcolm, associate professor in the occupational therapy department and capstone advisor for her project commented, “Haleigh’s work very much embodies our hopes for CSU-OT graduates: To develop creative solutions that will help individuals of all ability levels to do what they need and want to do in life.”

What’s next for Chwirka and the Beacon Band? Through CSU Ventures, Beacon Band is now patient-pending and next steps include finalizing the prototype, commercializing the product, and exploring the current market. With the Beacon Band designed, Chwirka, is hoping to make life a little easier for others and appears confident and excited for the future.

The Department of Occupational Therapy and the Department of Design and Merchandising are part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.