Education

Hand It to Oh Wow! to Offer Exhibit Test Drive

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The most important component of the new “Drive to Hold” exhibit at Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, is on the outside.

The simple prosthetic hand, mounted on the exterior of the 9-foot-tall cylinder accompanied by a similarly attached sign that reads “High Five!” is where visitors can celebrate using the prosthetics inside to shoot a ball though the miniature basketball hoop at the top.

“Nothing but net,” Nick Strecker, shop supervisor for RedBox Workshop, remarked as he and carpenter Kurt Kupferer made a basket.

“OK, made a basket – high five,” he said as he tapped his palm to the palm of the exterior hand prosthetic.

Strecker and Kupferer were at Oh Wow Wednesday to make adjustments to the exhibit and evaluate visitors’ interactions. Their company, Chicago-based RedBox, specializes in designing and fabricating exhibits for children’s museums and designing prototypes such as Drive to Hold.

“RedBox has worked directly with us in the development of these exhibits. Nobody else in the world has them,” said Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow president and executive director.

Installed in December, Drive to Hold is the latest in a series of Oh Wow exhibits RedBox has built to showcase how individuals with disabilities cope with routine tasks. “Drive to Hear,” installed in September, addresses how people with hearing problems cope through both technological and nontechnological means.

The exhibits are funded by a $172,304 donation from the Hine Memorial Fund, a component fund of the Youngstown Foundation.

Drive to Hold allows users to experience how various prosthetic hands are used for specific functions as they manipulate the small plastic balls through various stages to make the hoop. A claw or pincer is used to pick up a ball, for instance, while jointed prosthetics are manipulated to grip and turn a handle or press a button. The end goal is to get the ball into a prosthetic designed specifically for playing basketball.

Individuals who don’t require a prosthetic often have the impression that “one size fits all,” Barbati said, but that isn’t the case.

“There’s lots of different options people have in the selection of a prosthetic,” she said, and what is chosen depends on what the individual wants to do. “If they’re playing basketball they have a different type of prosthetic,” she said. “In this exhibit, we can show and tell people what those things look like.”

In all, the exhibit uses five prosthetics beyond the High Five hand on the exterior.

The exhibit took six months to design plus another two months on the shop floor, Strecker said.

“This one’s a little bit unique in that we had a design for this unit that our design shop at the studio came up with,” he said. “When it got to the shop floor, it was a collaboration of a bunch of people working together, working on various elements in this unit to get it to do what the design team had actually thought it should.”

At this point, the exhibit has become a collaboration between RedBox and Oh Wow, after “taking it as far as we could in the ship,” he added.

“We tested it in the shop. Everything seemed to be working fine, but once you get it in a real-world situation and you have hundreds of kids coming through, things are bound to be different or not go as expected,” he said.

Fine-tuning included additional tightening of hardware to address the constant vibration that resulted from children playing with the device as well as fixes to ensure that balls can’t roll beyond the reach of the prosthetic used to grasp them.

Coming in March is another RedBox-produced exhibit, “Drive to Dance,” which will showcase the types of leg prosthetics and their uses. RedBox also did installations in the children’s areas of the Canfield and Boardman branches of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County.

Jamie Wilson of Hermitage, Pa. brought her four children to Oh Wow because the center offered free admission from 3 to 7 p.m. to allow the RedBox representatives to see how guests interacted with the exhibit, get feedback and make any adjustments.

“If you haven’t experienced anything like that for yourself, it shows you all the obstacles that people have to overcome to do a simple task that for you or I would be very simple,” Wilson said. “But for people with disabilities, it’s a bit more difficult.”

Added Strecker, “What I’m seeing so far is that kids, without any prompting, are getting the intent of what we’re doing here. They’re getting it together, they’re working around and they’re having fun.”

The two RedBox representatives will be there today to evaluate the exhibit and make any needed adjustments.

Ellie Platt, a member of Oh Wow’s board, was pleased to see the children enjoying the exhibit. She also noted she brought her 8-year-old son to try it out last weekend.

“This is the type of exhibit you go to New York or Washington for,” she remarked. “The level of quality that we have here is really amazing, and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Offering new experiences is essential for Oh Wow, Barbati said. “We’re a little bit different in that we have an educational focus here at Oh Wow,” she said. “We want people to come back and practice the processes that we introduce here. So it’s very important that we offer new experiences.”

Pictured: Nick Strecker, shop supervisor for RedBox Workshop, and carpenter Kurt Kupferer.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.