Armed with paint supplies and her passion project, Guided Hands, 3rd-year McMaster engineering student Lianna Genovese joined a 12-year-old girl and her family at their doctor’s appointment in the summer of 2019. The young girl has dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions. The condition causes her fingers to curl inwards, making it painful and difficult to do day-to day activities and participate in school. Lianna was hoping that Guided Hands, an assistive device that helps individuals with medical conditions affecting basic hand function, would help alleviate some of her struggles.
Guided Hands has an ergonomic handpiece tailored to the individual’s medical condition and a wrist rest, both of which move along a sliding rack. Attached to the gripping ball is an adjustable holder that can fit a variety of utensils such as pens, pencils, markers, paintbrushes, and styluses. This design helps the user outstretch their fingers and reduces their hand fatigue.
As the girl began to paint using Lianna’s device, a beaming smile spread wide across her face. She immediately turned to her mom and said, “I want one.” At that point, the idea of selling her avocation had never even crossed her mind. Inspired by this girl, Lianna decided to start her own business and commit to enhancing the quality of life of individuals with accessibility issues.
“This is what I want to do. I want to connect with patients. I want to be beside them and ask them: ‘What do you need? How can I make your everyday better?’ As an engineer, that’s amazing because I can create something for them,” said Lianna.
Guided Hands continues to support the education of the 12-year-old girl who uses it for her math and painting classes. Its impact has now expanded to enable independence and opportunities for a myriad of individuals in local hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and rehabilitation clinics.
This explosive journey began as a humble final project during Lianna’s first year in McMaster’s Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Science undergraduate program. Her class was challenged to design a tool for a woman with dystonia. Like the 12-year-old girl, she had difficulty performing basic tasks like cooking, writing, and painting, an activity she loved.
While many of her classmates decided to code an app or build a 3D-model, Lianna, along with two of her classmates, chose to construct a tangible device. Out of all 40 teams, they were the only ones that targeted the woman’s passion for painting. They continually tested their designs with her throughout the process and eventually developed the prototype that was to become Guided Hands. It was one of the woman’s favorite designs as she could paint without tiring her forearm and hand.