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High Schoolers Design Prosthetic Arm For Disabled Cello Student

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In today’s age of technology and remarkable inventions, nothing is impossible. Just ask Austin Middle School (Irving, Texas) student Kayla Arqueta. She refused to allow her disability to stop her from learning how to play the cello in her school orchestra. Her teacher reached out to a local high school’s engineering class, and students made a prosthetic arm for the thriving musician. Now she can chase her dreams, no matter what.

Auditioning For The Orchestra

Arqueta was born without her left hand and part of her forearm, which would seem difficult to manage for most people. However, Arqueta has never allowed her disability to stop her from following her dreams. She wanted to audition for her middle school’s orchestra to be different from her older siblings, who were in band and choir. She specifically wanted to learn how to play the cello—an instrument she has always admired.

“She told me she wanted to play cello and I had no idea how to make that happen, but I knew I couldn’t say no. When you see a kid advocate for themselves, you just have to do it,” said orchestra director Carly Addison. To hopefully find a solution, Addison searched on Google and read a story about a man who learned how to play the cello with a prosthetic arm.

Addison’s research didn’t end there. She read more articles about musical prosthetics and eventually found the original blueprints developed by Dr. Jennifer Mankoff with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. After confirming with Mankoff that the blueprints were available for public use, Addison had completed the first phase of the project.

Next, she reached out to Nimitz High School engineering teacher Dwight Davison and asked if his students would be interested in joining the project. The teacher had recently acquired new 3D printers, which would be essential for the design. Addison said, “He was like, what an awesome opportunity for Kayla, what an awesome opportunity for my students.”

Working On The Project

Davison’s group of six students began working on the project. They designed and printed the prosthetic arm, using different filaments to make it more comfortable for Arqueta’s unique build. The project was especially meaningful to Arianna Tovar, who loves music. She wanted to make sure they could make the prosthetic arm for a student who really wanted to play music.

“Band is part of my life, and I have a family that I’ve made in band, and I love all of them,” Tovar said. “I know she could make a family out of what she wants to do and if she has a passion to do it, I think she should go for it.”

Fellow classmate Melvin Villalobos chimed in, “I’ve always had a passion for music. If Kayla wants to continue doing music, I’ll do whatever I can for her to keep pursuing music. Plus, if you have the power to help people, do it.”

A Successful Project

The students’ design was a success and Arqueta was able to finally play music after all these years. Her teacher was clearly impressed. “When Kayla pulled on the string, it made this big beautiful cello sound and I knew we had done it,” Addison said.

Addison was also impressed with how the music made Arqueta feel. She said, “You can see how empowered she’s been by being accepted and encouraged by all of the other musicians in her classroom.”

As for how Aqueta felt, she couldn’t believe she was finally realizing her dream. “It made me feel special,” she said. She knew it was a team effort to make the prosthetic arm, and she was incredibly grateful for the students who worked on the project. “Thank you for making me feel normal.”

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