Disability and engineering communities pair up for assistive technology hackathon
Americas, Assistive Technology, September 25 2017
CALGARY, ALBERTA: TOM: Alberta, a subsidiary of Kadima Dynamics, just concluded their third annual makeathon event. Local engineers and designers worked with people living with disabilities to create open-source solutions for everyday challenges. 15 multidisciplinary teams from Calgary worked together for a continuous 72 hours from August 24-27 to produce functional prototypes. The teams had access to fabrication equipment, materials, prototyping budgets, as well as guidance and mentorship from experienced designers.
The event was valuable to technical participants, or ‘makers’, who may be experts in their domain but disconnected from challenges faced in the community. Partnering with the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Calgary created a pipeline for highly-skilled trainees and faculty members in fields such as biomechanics and bioinstrumentation to give back. David Garrett, who together with his team developed a wireless adapter solution for monitoring blood-glucose levels in diabetic children reports that he’s “Gotten to know the human aspect rather than just looking at the technical aspect when trying to find a solution.”
Other solutions developed at the event include a footcare device for individuals with spina bifida, a pressure sore prediction device for wheelchair users, a distraction-free communication device for young children with autism, and a treadcycle for bitransfemoral amputees.
Participants also learned about societal challenges posed by disability. Gail Hvenegaard, that worked on a specialized bike that would enable her to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease recalls, “I don’t think I realized how much being disabled in this culture makes you feel like you’re asking for special privileges.”
TOM is an Israel-based global organization that facilitates grassroots events like this one around the globe. ‘Tikkun Olam’ is a Hebrew concept that means “repairing the world”. Since its founding in 2014, TOM makeathons have come to San Francisco, Sao Paolo, Tel Aviv, and Saigon.
15 functional prototypes were developed at the makeathon, that have since been made open-source through TOM’s repository. Refinement and support of these prototypes is accomplished by a year-round community based at the University of Calgary, University Campus Ability Network, or UCan, a partnership between TOM:Alberta and Students’ Union Wellness Center. Individuals interested in getting involved should visit tomcalgary.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.