Looking for a good DIY AT design idea?

Friday, February 6, 2015 - 11:00am
Member News

By Alexandra Enders

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(Editor's note: This article includes links to other organizations' websites. RESNA makes no claim about the content or accessibility of these sites, and users are advised to contact individual site owners if you encounter any problems or issues. If a link is broken, we would appreciate you letting us know and providing us with the new link, if possible.)

The International SIG is sponsoring an assistive technology DIY (Do-It-Yourself) contest to encourage innovative AT designs for people with disabilities in developing countries. Entries must be submitted by April 1, 2015. The top three designs can win cash prizes! Click here to read the contest rules and guidelines.

You might not have an entry for the SIG’s assistive technology DIY contest, but you probably have at least one good DIY idea that you could share. In this article, I've put together several different types of resources to help you get started. Just click on the name of the website and the link will take you there.

Patterns and Plans: Some Examples

I've found several great examples of projects that people have done. Click on the name to access the website. 

Thingiverse is a website devoted to “digital designs for physical objects.” These are free, downloadable digital designs for items which you can print on a 3-D printer. You can search Thingiverse to find DIY solutions. When I recently searched it, using “disability” as a search term, there were 14 results, while there were 94 results for “prosthetics.” If you are creating 3D printer designs, please share them on Thingiverse.  Let your fellow International SIG members know how you tagged them so we can find them too.  

DIY is more than just equipment. It also includes skills and strategies. Here are some examples: 

There are also disability specific sites created by people with disabilities to share “how to” info. These often take the form of blogs, for example: 

  • Lifekludger (David Wallace, Adelaide NSW, Australia): “gadgets, hacks, and kludges for people living with disability” 
  • How To Adapt (Tennessee)
  • APH’s Fred’s Head: “a better living blog for people who are blind or visually impaired”
  • DIY Ability:“empowering people with and without disabilities to make their world"
  • Enabled By Design: “people passionate about design for all” 

DIY also includes re-purposed devices:  An example of this would be using a golf club upside down as a walking stick. I tried this after a friend’s father showed me how he uses one of his old golf clubs instead of the cane his PT recommended.  You hold onto the part typically used to hit the ball. I tried them out at Goodwill until I found one that worked in my hand and was a good length for me. Price: $1, and no modification needed!

Outdoor equipment often has useful applications for disability related functional issues. For example, this foot traction device can help with stability on snow and ice. My personal favorite is the Kako ICEtrekkers Diamond Grip traction system, which my brother who has Parkinson’s also finds very helpful. You can also make your own, such as this person did, though I find the DIY design clunky.  

What about tools and products for makers? Sugru is a shapeable flexible material which turns to hard rubber in 24 hours. This website has ideas from all over the world on adapting things with sugru, and there are lots of YouTube videos to spark your creativity. It’s non-toxic, and works like magic. The inventor’s mantra is “fix that thing.”

Additional Resources

There are books and old files (I have lots of these);  new events like DC DIY (Do It Yourself) Fair for People with and without Disabilities  and DC Design-athon, and other design-athons sponsored by Enabled By Design, and initiatives like UCP’s Life Labs. There are groups like Not Impossible Labs, “technology for the sake of humanity,” which will design needed things, and have a strong interest in people with disabilities. 

Your Turn 

When you share your ideas online, please let International SIG members know via the SIG’s listserv. The SIG archives are searchable – here’s a link with instructions. To sign up for the International SIG listserv, which is open to both members and non-members, please contact the RESNA office

Final Thoughts

People with disabilities have been making and using their own devices for a long time.  Information about these technologies has typically been difficult to find, even though there are places where it has been documented and shared.  With the web, it is easier to capture oral history and stories. The maker movement provides a great platform for disability related DIY to find a forum. There are many reasons why disability related material needs to be incorporated into mainstream DIY/How To media. If it isn’t, then disability related ideas will always remain separate, outside and “special."  If that happens disability will not be seen as a regular part of the human experience, and it be difficult to weave into regular structures. Disability related solutions are not segregated, separate approaches to life – and they often have application to people who do not have a disability, or do not categorize themselves as having a disability. There are also pragmatic reasons – small, stand alone, disability systems are difficult to fund and maintain, making them less sustainable.  

So remember, if you come up with a great DIY idea, enter it into the International SIG contest, but also share it so others can benefit!