Technology and Website

Makers Making Change helps people with disabilities using 3D printing technology

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A network of volunteers and staff have developed a cost-effective solution to help people with disabilities across Canada and the United States.

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Statistics Canada said more than 80 per cent of persons with disabilities reported using at least one aid or assistive device and that cost was the most commonly reported reason for unmet needs for aids or assistive devices.

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This is where Makers Making Change comes in.

Starting in 2016 as part of a Neil Squire program, this not-for-profit has a mission to connect people who have disabilities with volunteer makers to build assistive technology using 3D printing at a much more affordable price.

“We have a bunch of volunteer makers, people who are like, ‘Hey, we want to help, we have certain skills. Let me know if you need my skills for anything,’” said Heather Buerfeind, Alberta outreach intern with Makers Making Change.

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Buerfeind says that the most commonly requested things are assistive switch devices such as grips for pens and pencils or a key holder to help turn your key in a lock. One of the newest is a card holder for people who struggle to hold playing cards.

“Commercial switches can be quite an upcharge because they’re a specialty. By crowdsourcing the movement maker and 3D printing, we can bring those costs down on average by about 94 per cent,” Buerfeind said.

So how it works is someone with a disability can go to the website, browse the devices online and either download the devices and 3D print them themselves or can be connected with a volunteer who can do that for them.

People can also volunteer to add new designs and, since everything is open-sourced, anyone can download a design and print it or submit a new design that someone may find useful.

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Buerfeind says that they have about 16 to 20 staff members who focus on outreach and developing new technologies, as well as working with individuals who have disabilities to develop technologies.

“We also get a bunch of people who will go on our website and say, ‘Hey, I would like something that helps me do such and such a task, but I don’t see anything on your website. Can someone help me design this?’” said Buerfeind.

Then either someone on their team or a volunteer maker can take that design challenge and work with them to build something.

“Building those connections between people who have the skills and people who require those skills … it’s an aspect of community that I’m really loving seeing,” said Buerfeind.

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