Student entrepreneurs at Ryerson’s Interdisciplinary EDGE Lab developing adaptive technologies for children with disabilities
The Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) lab at Ryerson University is helping students turn good ideas into social enterprises.
Posted by GRAND NCE, November 6, 2013

Ryerson University entrepreneurs Sherene Ng (left) and Rubina Quadri are creating customized, affordable adaptations and communication tools for children with disabilities. CREDIT: Ryerson University
Ryerson University entrepreneurs Sherene Ng (left) and Rubina Quadri are creating customized, affordable adaptations and communication tools for children with disabilities. CREDIT: Ryerson University

The Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) lab at Ryerson University is helping students turn good ideas into social enterprises.

Students are often a source of innovative ideas. With suitable mentorship and seed funding, many can transform their ideas into viable commercial opportunities. The Experiential Design and Gaming Environments (EDGE) Lab ( at Ryerson University is helping students to do just that.

Unique in Canada, the transdisciplinary research lab is studying early childhood learning, play, and social innovation with an emphasis on designing “adaptive” technologies, a design process that revolves around the particular needs and goals of the user. The lab is funded with the support of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, and leverages the expertise of local, national and international researchers.

Dr. Jason Nolan, EDGE Lab director and GRAND CNI, is researching tools that increase children’s autonomy. One of Dr. Nolan’s main efforts has involved using cardboard and other easily accessible materials to engineer custom adaptations, therapeutic seats, play tables and computer kiosks. Projects focus on social technologies that enable children with disabilities to more actively engage in the world around them.

With GRAND’s support, the lab’s innovative techniques are getting passed along to students eager to apply them to their own design ideas. The lab supports undergraduate research projects as part of internships for students from Ryerson’s School of Early Childhood Studies (ECS). Students receive mentorship and access to lab space and a range of tools and equipment to test and deploy prototypes.

“GRAND has been transformational in terms of how the EDGE Lab has been able to support innovative research ideas from undergraduate HQP,” said Dr. Nolan. “I hired undergraduates to be mentored by my more senior graduate students, which has worked out well in the past.”

In 2013, the lab celebrated the successes (and media attention) of two student entrepreneurs, Sherene Ng and Rubina Quadri, who received major grants to develop their prototypes.

New shoe for the visually impaired detects walking hazards

As a student in Ryerson’s ECS program, Sherene Ng planned to become a teacher when she hit upon an idea for her own business: wearable shoe sensors that could help people with impaired vision avoid tripping hazards and falls. The shoe would detect objects in the walking path and alert the wearer through vibrations to their feet.

During her final internship in 2012, Ng was placed at the EDGE Lab where she learned about adaptive design for children with disabilities. She worked with Dr. Nolan and field educator Rubina Quadri, now a graduate of Ryerson’s ECS program, to develop her design. Vlad Cazan, a Technician at the EDGE Lab, helped with the electronics for the prototype.

“The internship introduced me to something completely new. I was given the opportunity to build things that were meaningful. I realized I did not want a traditional 9-to-5 job,” Ng said in an interview with the Financial Times. "Shifting from Early Childhood Educator to entrepreneur has been a challenge, but the lab has assisted with the transfer of my skills from one field to another."

The shoe idea earned her a $54,000 FedDev Ontario Science and Engineering in Business Fellowship, granted in March 2013, to commercialize the prototype. She also joined the SheEO program: a social enterprise incubator focused on and supported by women entrepreneurs. The program is sponsored in part by Ryerson and hosted at the university’s Digital Media Zone – one of Canada’s largest incubators for entrepreneurs.

“Coming in I didn’t have a clear picture of what my business model would be and I was matched with an advisor who really committed time to me and offered insights into how to approach the market and build a brand,” Ng said.

Ng, Quadri and Nolan have since launched Adaptive Designers, a company that designs and builds adaptive equipment for people with disabilities using basic materials such as corrugated cardboard, wood, fabric, plastics, and electronics.

Though she did not anticipate becoming an entrepreneur, Ng says she is grateful for the skills and knowledge she gained at Ryerson, which have enabled her to understand and identify needs for people with disabilities.

"Working with Jason Nolan and the EDGE Lab team has played a huge role in my success," said Ng. "As a recent graduate, with a small network and limited skills, Dr. Nolan and the EDGE lab have provided me a professional workplace to explore my interests in adaptive design and to receive support to commercialize the prototype."

Touchpad communication device to assist children with speech disabilities

Ng’s field educator at the EDGE Lab, Rubina Quadri, is herself an up-and-coming entrepreneur. In October 2012, she received a $30,000 Ryerson Social Enterprise Fellowship award to develop the Talking Touchpad, a wearable, customizable device designed to help young children with speech disabilities or difficulties communicate.

Small enough to be kept in a pocket, the unit is more portable and discreet than alternatives on the market. Using a touchscreen, the device lets users select audio clips of spoken words in a variety of voices and languages and combine them into full sentences. The technology is especially helpful in enabling children communicate with non-family members, which increases dramatically when children start childcare or school.

Through the fellowship, Quadri is looking to develop her business model and take the prototype to the next level.

“The decision to apply for a commercialization grant was shaped by the lab’s culture of experimentation, as well as support to pursue personal interests,” said Quadri. “Developing my own business was a long term goal that I did not expect to meet until well after graduation.”

“Through the EDGE Lab, I have gained educational and life experiences that far exceed what I have learned in traditional education spaces. In this setting, I have increased my knowledge both within and beyond the field of Early Childhood Education,” she added.

“When Rubina and Sherene had their own ideas to extend my adaptive design work, I was easily able to allocate resources to support them,” commented Dr. Nolan. “I was then able to get funds from the Ryerson Summer Research Opportunities Program for a business student to work with them to develop two proposals which enabled them to write the successful grant proposals.”

Dr. Nolan is hoping to repeat the lab’s success with two more proposals under development with other undergraduate students working in the lab. He will be presenting a new collaboration with GRAND HQP Melanie McBride and Kenneth Emig in the form of a multisensory environment installation at the upcoming GRAND conference in May 2014.



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