From seat transfer assistance to accessible lavatories, Kate Hunter-Zaworski and Joe Zaworski work to make intercity travel easier for people with disabilities.
Air travel is becoming less of a chore for persons with disabilities thanks to Kate Hunter-Zaworski and other researchers in Oregon State University’s National Center for Accessible Transportation (NCAT).
“Our focus is intercity public transportation,” says Hunter-Zaworski, NCAT director and associate professor in civil engineering. “We started with buses and now are working with aircraft. Air travel is the mode of choice for trips over 250 miles.”
Her husband, Joe Zaworski, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and NCAT researcher, says the aircraft work has involved “improving jet bridges, transferring people from aisle chairs to seats and back, and making lavatories more accessible.”
A lot of the work occurs in a crowded campus laboratory cluttered with wheelchairs, airplane seats, special aisle chairs and lifts, an airplane restroom, and a variety of other equipment in various stages of development.
Hunter-Zaworski, who has been working to improve accessibility for people with disabilities for more than 25 years says, “I like to look at people’s abilities, not their disabilities. What we develop should make travel better for everybody.”
NCAT is funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research. NCAT brings together researchers from various OSU colleges and departments and numerous students, both graduate and undergraduate.
Recently NCAT received attention for its work on developing an accessible restroom for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will begin flying next year.
“The Boeing project was really fun,” Hunter-Zaworski says. “I didn’t have to tell them this is the right thing to do. They’re very committed to doing the right thing in this area. We had a lot of give-and-take. They picked my brain. I picked their brains. We hall have the same goal — to enhance the flying experience.”