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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events
News and Events

Students Help Peer Ramp Up Service Project

USC Chan Magazine, Fall 2013

To many, do-it-yourself renovation projects can be a costly headache waiting to happen. But for Donna Ozawa MA ’15, who can take a look at a person's home and see potential for healthier living, it's a real passion.

By Jen Waters MA ’14

With two decades of experience in disciplines including sculpture, design and wheelchair engineering, Ozawa has helped people live more safely and comfortably in their residences. She received an executive certificate in home modification from the USC Davis School of Gerontology in 2012, and has worked with several professional and volunteer organizations to adapt home spaces to better fit residents’ needs.

The purpose of home modification projects — such as placing non-slip backing under floor rugs, installing grab bars for easy shower entry and exit or retrofitting entire houses to be wheelchair accessible — is to make tasks easier, reduce in-home accidents and support independent living.

Now a student in USC’s occupational therapy master’s class of 2015, Ozawa is pursuing a career that will allow her to seamlessly combine her experiences and interests to help people lead healthier, happier lives.

“I wanted to make a connection between building and health care,” Ozawa says, about why she chose to attend USC, home to U.S. News & World Report‘s No. 1 occupational therapy graduate educational program.

Once on campus, Ozawa met fellow occupational therapy student Eun Kyung Bae MA ’15, a Korean native who earned her undergraduate degree in woodworking and furniture design.

As burgeoning occupational therapists, Ozawa and Kim can appreciate the impact of built environments on disability accessibility. In an effort to put their knowledge and skills into action, Ozawa and Bae, who also has a spinal cord injury and uses a power wheelchair, teamed together for a project with personal meaning.

“Donna has a lot of tools at her house, but there are two steps to enter her house,” Bae said. “I’m sitting on a wheelchair, so we decided to make a [wheelchair] ramp.”

Ozawa and Bae reviewed standards for accessible design, drafted blueprints for a plywood wheelchair ramp and then, with the help of a team of USC occupational students, built it.

Donna Ozawa MA ’15 works the miter saw to construct a wheelchair ramp

Donna Ozawa MA ’15 works the miter saw to construct a wheelchair ramp

“We made it a potluck, and it was a very social event,” said Becca Heymann MA ’15, who helped. “Everyone was able to contribute to something, and Donna gave us all a tutorial on how to use the tools.”

Soon, students who had never used power tools were sawing wood, snapping chalk lines and drilling screws. Bae’s expertise in furniture construction was also an asset for the novice classmates. “Donna really wanted everyone to get involved so she taught me how to use a power drill and then made me drill in screws for one side of the ramp,” said Stephanie Dote MA ’15, who also lent a hand. “She was a great teacher and gave great pointers, and once I finished my side I was actually proud of myself and it made me more interested in carpentry and using tools.”

After construction, Bae tested the ramp, and other students simulated the experience using a manually-pushed wheelchair loaned from the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. After a few adjustments the team had their finished ramp, but more importantly, Bae was able to enter her colleague’s home.

“It was a great bonding day for everyone who came,” said Dote, “and everyone learned something new.”

But the project would not be finished without one final touch from these new Trojans: they decorated the wheelchair ramp in colors matching USC’s cardinal and gold.