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Queen's University
 

School of Graduate Studies

Dear Queen's Supporter,

Children with cerebral palsy face several challenges, particularly in their teenage years. As they become bigger and heavier in adolescence, their muscles do not keep up. They have a harder time getting around, tiring more easily. They can become increasingly socially isolated. These are the facts. The question is: what we can do to help?

As a Ph.D. student in the School of Computing, I work in Dr. Nick Graham’s EQUIS (Engineering Interactive Systems at Queen’s University) Lab. My role involves working closely with a group of children with cerebral palsy to design games that encourage physical activity. My work also includes designing and conducting experiments that help us identify the effectiveness of our ideas.

If you tell people that a computer game can be good exercise, they will have trouble believing you. But that is the idea behind the CP Fit ‘n’ Fun project – it combines gaming with exercise. In my work in the lab, we met with kids for participatory design sessions every couple of months. They tested the games, and gave us feedback or new ideas; then we went back to our lab and tweaked the games.

Hamilton Hernandez shown testing the Fit'n'Fun gaming system - seated on the modified recumbent bicyle in front of a computer and large flatscreen monitor Ph.D. candidate Hamilton Hernandez testing the Cerebral Palsy Fit ‘n' Fun gaming system

Combining creativity and technology

This work was followed by two eight-week home trials, during which we monitored the use of the gaming system. I think you could say the trials were a success – the kids wanted to keep the games!

So how does it work? Imagine a recumbent bicycle connected to a 23-inch computer screen and you have the basics of the system. We developed several different games. For the games to work, the player must pedal the bicycle – and pedal it hard. The harder you pedal, the faster you move in the computer game.

These games include a networking component, making them multiplayer. The Fit ‘n’ Fun set-up comes with headset – so kids can talk to each other while they play. Along with promoting physical activity, the Fit ‘n’ Fun program helps these kids avoid social isolation.

Excellence meets opportunity

I can’t tell you how satisfying this work has been for me. To create something that so demonstrably helps people is fantastic. I hope that someday every child with cerebral palsy has access to a system like this.

This is just one example of the kinds of things that are happening here at Queen’s – things that are profoundly affecting people’s lives, and things that are making a real difference. There are so many other projects that can change people’s lives. But we can’t do it without you. Please add your support to the 2012-13 Queen’s Annual Appeal with a gift to the Dean’s Awards in Graduate Studies Fund, where every gift creates opportunity.

Hamilton Hernandez, Ph.D student
School of Graduate Studies

 

 

 

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