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Making Change with the Power of Assistive Technology

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Makers Making Change

Today I want to tell you about an initiative that is using design and creation of assistive technology to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities. It is called "Makers Making Change." This program is a part of the Neil Squire Society, a national Canadian nonprofit organization. The vision of the Neil Squire Society is to promote economic and social inclusiveness for all people with disabilities. In trying to achieve this vision, the organization has also set a goal to "facilitate innovative technology solutions to improve productivity for people with disabilities." This is where the Makers Making Change program comes into play. Makers Making Change is an international community of "makers" who work in tandem with people with disabilities to create accessibility solutions. The program connects makers with people with disabilities who are interested in exploring assistive technology solutions for a barrier they are facing in their own life.

Access Makeathon

One really great event put on by Makers Making Change is the Access Makeathon, which brings people together to work toward bettering people's lives. At the makeathon, groups of makers (typically engineering students) are connected with a person with a disability with the aim of learning their needs, putting their heads together, and finding solutions for any barriers the individual is facing due to their disability.

The Access Makeathon is a one-of-a-kind race against the clock, giving teams just 48 hours to design and build assistive technology for an individual facing a physical access barrier of some kind. The teams are then judged based on the efficiency, accessibility, and effectiveness of the assistive technology product the team has created.

At the start of the event, a small group of pre-selected people with disabilities come to the event with a mobility or access related barrier in mind. They are then each matched with a team of about 10 makers who will work together with the individual to build them a piece of open source assistive technology. The person with a disability serves as captain of their team. Makers are allowed to use computer aided design (CAD) to plan the creation of their assistive technology project and have access to 3-D printers, welders, and other equipment to build their design.

Open Source Technology

Not familiar with Open Source Technology? I wasn't either. "The term 'open source' refers to something people can modify and share because it's design is publicly accessible" (https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source). Anyone can access the source code, and are permitted to "copy it, learn from it, alter it, or share it." This means that other makers all over the world can access and modify the source code of any design created by a Makers Making Change team and incorporate changes into their own projects, as long as they allow others to do the same.

​Lip Sync

Among the many other prototypes and ideations born out of this program is their first complete design, known as the "Lip Sync." In a world filled with touchscreens, many types of technology that are available are not always very accessible for people with physical disabilities. This can be especially troublesome for people who have limited or no use of their hands.

I struggled immensely with touchscreens in the earlier days of my spinal cord injury, but never imagined that an item like this would be affordable enough for my budget. Fast forward a few years, and enter the Lip Sync. This nifty little piece of technology has a mouth-controlled joystick that can be used to navigate your Android touchscreen device with very little effort or range of motion required. It is also portable and wheelchair mountable.

Are you ready for the most inspiring part? With support provided by the Google Disability Impact Challenge, Makers Making Change has made this device available for nothing more than the cost to make and ship it. This means that the Lip Sync – a piece of technology that has an estimated retail price of up to US$1500 – can be sold and shipped for less than $300.

Check it Out

​Want to get in on the action somewhere in the states? Makers Making Change will be attending the World Maker Faire New York the weekend of September 22nd and 23rd, and is also hoping to hold a small LipSync Buildathon or two in the New York/East Coast area in the following week after the Maker Faire.


Discussion

Do you have a favorite piece of DIY assistive technology you'd like to share? Comment below to join the conversation!

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Sunday, 25 August 2019

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