Simple Seat, Better Lives

Creating independence and empowering those of the developing world through simple and effective solutions.

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Uganda is a country recovering from decades of war and conflict. Our project seeks to enable individuals impacted by war to regain independence that was reduced by the war.

The goal of this project is to address the problem concerning the use of pit latrines in Uganda by individuals who have been handicapped by landmines. Our objective is to construct low-cost, portable assistive devices that solve physical limitations and socially stigmatic problems for those with disabilities using the pit latrine, which are just simple holes in the ground. Since those who have been impaired by landmines have difficulty squatting or standing up, it is impossible for them to independently use these pit latrines.

The impact is two-fold. We will also be stimulating the local economy and providing jobs to the landmine survivors who will produce these seats. Our aim is also to combat the negative social stigma of those with disabilities by providing ways in which they can be independent.


  • Devices that address a large range of physical disabilities and allow its users to independently use a pit latrine in a sanitary manner.
  • Instructional manuals depicting how to construct the devices


  • Must be affordable to individuals living on $3 a day or less
  • Must be reproducible in rural parts of Uganda
    • Made from locally available materials and manufactured using local tools
    • Made by Ugandans, specifically landmine survivors
  • Must consider social stigmas surrounding disabilities and concerns of independence

Lasting Impact:

This project is working hard to ensure that the devices are integrated into the pilot region instead of being abandoned as many other charitable handouts are. To increase the likelihood of device integration and adoption, we are implementing a simple system for the beneficiaries:

  1. A landmine survivor, identified by our partner organization, The Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA), will be sent to a vocational school to learn carpentry and/or metal-working
  2. This survivor will be provided with the materials to produce 10 devices
  3. ULSA will buy back the devices at a profit to the survivor
  4. ULSA will then provide the devices to others in need at an affordable cost
  5. The trained landmine survivor can continue to produce the devices for revenue. With their acquired skills from vocational school, they may also be employed as a craft person of their discipline to achieve financial independence

Current Prototypes:

Right now, our team is in the process of finalizing some of our existing prototypes, as well as expanding on new concepts and ideas in order to create devices that are tailored to fit different physical disabilities.

The Box

Designed to mimic a cardboard box, this design is portable, sturdy, and can be made out of a variety of materials, depending on what is available in Uganda at the time. The handrails provide support to the user so they may use their upper-body strength to lower themselves onto the device. The supporting walls look have the X shape to cut down on weight and reduce the potential splatter zone!

The WalkerThis design serves a double purpose in order to increase mobility of its user, so that the individual can also get to the pit latrine independently. The walker contains a seat that folds out of the front. The seat rests on a crescent shaped support to minimize the maximum torque and bending stresses applied. The metal support that runs across the seat provides additional rigidity for the user.

The Crutch

This design also serves two purposes. The first being a mobility assist as a simple crutch. The second function is as a latrine aid. A seat folds out of the frame of the crutch for the user to sit down on when they are in the latrine. The metal design was conceived after the survey trip to Uganda where it was discovered that welding is common practice in our area of interest.

Introduction to SSBL.pptx

Power point presentation that relays a brief introduction to the importance of the project and includes pictures of our research trip to Uganda in January of 2016

presentation - 7.74 MB - 09/28/2016 at 02:43


Design and Introduction of Pit-Latrine Assistive Devices in Lira, Uganda.pdf

This document is a full description of the design and implementation of the Simple Seat, Better Lives project that includes pictures of our current prototypes and economic plan to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Adobe Portable Document Format - 385.60 kB - 09/28/2016 at 02:41


  • 1 × Folding Box Design Requires Design that provides the most stable surface for an individual to use while in the pit latrine
  • 1 × 3/4" thick sheets of wood Prototype 1: Main building material for the box design. It can be plywood, hardwood, or any type of sheet wood..
  • 7 × Hinges Prototype 1: Main component that assists the portability aspect of the box design.
  • 1 × 1" x 1" wood Prototype 1: This will be used in building the handles on the box design
  • 4 × Screws Prototype 1: Also used in building the handles on the box design.

View all 9 components

  • Infographic to Explain the Issue

    Mei-Li Hey02/22/2020 at 18:15 0 comments

    Hey All, I wanted to share our infographic with you! This infographic helps visually explain the problem that we are trying to solve.

  • Margaret Orech - Human Rights Defender

    Mei-Li Hey02/19/2020 at 17:11 0 comments

    Here is a cool update: Check out the inspiration behind the idea, Margaret Orech being honored by the EU for being a Defender of Human Rights. Recognize those other team members?? :)

  • Its Been A Minute...

    Mei-Li Hey02/19/2020 at 06:49 0 comments


    Its been a while since we have been able to share any updates. But we have some very exciting ones! Since the last time we posted, we have had THREE amazing research and implementation trips to Uganda with a couple different student-led Senior Design Teams. 

    During these trips, we have introduced four new designs. During the first trip, we introduced the box-design, which has been a user favorite because of its ease of transportability and setup for use. This was one of our original designs, and we were able to collect more information about how to make it even more easily manufacturable. Another design that we introduced was the tripod design, which is the most cost-effective design. This one is very sturdy while only using minimal material, and is very light-weight. User feedback indicated that it would be a good fit for someone who is in good physical shape and could squat down low. 

    From our original trip (see earlier posts) we had a walker design that was very well received by users. Their feedback was that a walker made of wood was pretty heavy, and it would help out a lot if there were wheels. Also, wood is sometimes hard to clean, and buying paint to cover the whole surface of the walker was expensive. So, our wonderful students in the second year of the senior design teams came up with a design made out of PVC (on Uganda, the material is called PPR). They also came up with a way to use old bike wheels for the walker. We were able to build six of these walkers in Lira at local vocational schools while we were in Uganda for two weeks! Attached are some photos.

    The third trip we again iterated on the walker design. This time, we made it a bit fancier, using metal instead of PPR. This made the device lighter and more structurally sound. It also made it cheaper to manufacture! All really great improvements, and we received some awesome feedback from users as well.

    Our partners in Uganda are continuing to build the seats and distribute them to landmine survivors. We are excited that one of our partners there, Lawrence Odoc, is about to finish his college degree and be able to work with us full time in producing the seats. 


    Mei-Li Hey11/18/2016 at 04:13 0 comments

    Hey All! Here is a picture of our newest prototype. It is a third iteration of our crutch-attachment idea. The seat simply folds down from the crutch, making it easy to use with limited physical capabilities.

  • IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference!

    harry10/15/2016 at 19:31 0 comments

    Hello again!

    We've been busy building and working, but we had the chance to take a break from the lab this weekend to present our work at IEEE's Global Humanitarian Technology Conference in Seattle! It has been awesome hearing about all the great work that engineers and scientists are doing all over the globe. There are a ton of passionate people out there!!

    We were particularly honored to receive IEEE's Humanitarian Engineering Project Award :)

    We'll be back soon with some design updates!

    -SSBL Team

  • Ability Magazine

    Mei-Li Hey09/30/2016 at 18:51 0 comments

    Our team leader, Mei-Li Hey, met with Chet Cooper, founder of ABILITY Awareness, a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities by focusing in on housing, education, and employment. The Simple Seat, Better Lives team shares this same mission and looks forward to collaboration with ABILITY Corps and ABILITY Magazine in the future to enhance assistive technologies for disabled individuals around the world.

    Here is a video from the ABILITY Magazine website that interviews leaders from around the world about strengthening advocacy, policy, and technology for the disabled community. Mohamed BahaaEldin Chaheen from Egypt speaks about how he believes that the issue surrounding those who have been disabled by war are is not getting properly addressed. Let's change this!

  • Update in Uganda

    Mei-Li Hey09/30/2016 at 00:03 0 comments

    Great news!

    We have two new students coming from Agago and Oyam districts in Northern Uganda to attend vocational school at Ave Maria. Ave Maria is a private school in Lira, Uganda, that will train these individuals in carpentry and metalworking so that they can successfully produce the Simple Seat. Our contact, Margaret Orech, will be identifying more individuals to begin this training soon. So stay updated!

    Here is a photo our team took when we sat in on a sewing class last January:

    And our team collaborating with the Director of Ave Maria as we demonstrate our prototypes that we brought with us:

    We are very excited about the upcoming month as more students begin school!


  • The Walker Design

    harry09/28/2016 at 19:36 0 comments

    Hello again!

    My name is Harry Schmachtemberger and I am the designer of the walker assistive device. We thought it would be useful to combine a mobility assistive device for the physically impaired, a crutch or a walker, with a seat to create a hybrid device. The device could solve two problems at once!

    All of this building wore me out a little... I think I'll take a seat for a minute!

    Until next time.


  • The Folding Box Design

    harry09/28/2016 at 19:20 0 comments

    One of our team members, Caleb Avery, had the idea for a portable and foldable seat that could collapse into a small space. This idea came to him last spring when unfolding a cardboard box!

    We are able to build all of our designs using our university's brand new machine shop. As exciting as some of the machines are, we are only using SIMPLE tools to build our prototypes, because those are the tools available in Uganda.

    Here is Mei-Li, our team leader, showing us the third iteration of this design!

    Thanks for reading!


  • Hello World! - Simple Seat, Better Lives

    harry09/28/2016 at 18:41 0 comments

    Simple Seat team checking in! We heard about the Assistive Devices challenge yesterday, so we took a break from prototyping to introduce our team leader, Mei-Li Hey.

    Mei-Li Hey is a West Chicago native who is passionate about humanitarian work that extends beyond borders. Outside of her Mechanical Engineering classes at the University of San Diego, she spends her time organizing house building trips in Tijuana, rock climbing (indoors and outdoors!), and surfing. She traveled to the Dominican Republic in January of 2015 to build fuel-efficient stoves, to combat deforestation and local respiratory issues, and water-filtration systems in the town of El Cercado. In January of 2016, she took the Simple Seat, Better Lives team to Uganda to introduce and receive user feedback from potential users in Lira.

    Our next log will have details about our prototypes, stay tuned!!

View all 10 project logs

  • 1
    Step 1

    We're currently creating manuals with instructions on how to build the devices that can be read and understood by anyone, like the ones that come with easy-to-assemble college furniture!

View all instructions

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