Williamston students help peers with disabilities get a HANDL on lockers

Mar 23, 2016

A team of students at Williamston High School is building an electronic device that helps people with autism or neurological impairments open their lockers. We look at Williamston’s Project HANDL.


Williamston High School students Justin Kreis, Robert Cheney and John Hall are part of the team designing a device that automatically opens school lockers.
Credit Kevin Lavery / WKAR

Turning on the faucet. Tying your shoes. Opening your locker.

These are a few of the fine motor skills that most of us take for granted on a daily basis.

Can you imagine the frustration of not being able to access your possessions whenever you want?

A team of students at Williamston High School is building an electronic device that helps people with autism or neurological impairments open their locker, aptly named “Project HANDL.”

HANDL astands for Helping the Autistic and Neurodevelopmentally Disabled with Lockers.

The project is funded through the Lemelson Grant Program based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Williamston was one of only 14 schools across the country to receive the prestigious science innovation grant.

Now, the WHS InvenTeam is ready to start showing off their device to the public. 

Student and InvenTeam member Emma Drake says the device can help students with all kinds of disabilities more easily access the books and binders during the school day. 

“We are focusing specifically on fine motor skill disabilities, or cognitive disabilities,” says Drake.

“Whether they were physically unable to open the locker, or if they just have trouble remembering the combination.”

So, how did the students first become aware of this problem? 

Drake points to a peer-to-peer special education program at Williamston called LINKS.

She says it was her participation in that group that helped spark the idea for Project HANDL.

“While they may not have directly expressed their frustrations, you can tell,” says Drake. “The number one thing with anybody who works with special education students is that they want to fit in.”

The device goes directly onto the combination dial that is on every locker. The locker’s specific combination is already programmed onto the device.

A motor controls the dial, allowing it to spin it in whichever direction is necessary. A laser mount on top of the device reflects light off the locker.

“When the laser reflects off the tape, it hits the sensor on the front of the device,” says John Hall, student at WHS.

“The program interprets this increase in light, and that’s how it knows where zero is. The program has the combination already entered into it and it knows the position of the dial – so then it turns in different directions after aligning itself with zero.”

While the technical aspects are still being worked out – the InvenTeam admits the device is not finished – the public had a chance to observe the progress made on Project HANDL at a recent community event.

“It’s basically a public presentation where we invited stakeholders [in special education], community members and family members to see what we’ve done,” says Joe Rasmus, math teacher at Williamston.

InvenTeam is confident that their device will be a big help to their peers with disabilities.

“Being able to just hang out at your locker is something a lot of high school students take for granted,” says Drake.

“We want to extend that opportunity to those who may not have it now.”

Article by Ethan Merrill, Current State Intern