Neil Squire, a talented basketball player at the University of Victoria, was only 21 years old when he was in a car crash that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. His cousin, Bill Cameron, used his engineering background to build a “sip-and-puff” device that enabled Neil to communicate through Morse code.
Although Neil passed away a short time later, his legacy lives on through the Neil Squire Society’s Makers Making Change program — an online platform that connects individuals in need of assistive technology with volunteer makers who can build the devices.
“Makers Making Change crowdsources volunteers to make assistive devices for people in the community and get them out there as much as we can at the lowest possible price,” says Suzanne Winterflood, the Central Regional Coordinator for Makers Making Change.
Around 80% of people living with a disability use assistive devices, and more than one in four go without needed devices due to cost. Through Makers Making Change, volunteers donate their time and skills to build devices. Individuals in need of devices cover only the cost of materials and shipping.
Individuals can request a device from the assistive devices library and be connected with a volunteer maker who can build it for them. If the device they need isn’t available, they can post a design challenge to the Maker Wanted forum and work with a community of makers who can help design it.
Three years ago, the device library contained around 20 designs. Today, there are 215 device designs — and counting. “We curate designs from our fellow makers and community,” explains Suzanne. “People can submit their design, and it goes through a process to get onto the website.”
Every device design is open source, meaning that anyone can download the files and instructions to make their own device. The library includes many different types of assistive switches, communication aids, adapted toys, and daily living devices like key turners, spoon stabilizers, and pill pack openers. The majority of the devices are made using a 3D printer. For each device, the instructions include the difficulty level, time to complete, and an estimated material cost.
In addition to assisting individuals in need, Makers Making Change also supplies devices for children’s hospitals, schools, occupational therapists, and other disability professionals.
Anyone can become a volunteer maker by signing up on the website or joining one of the 45 community chapters across the U.S. and Canada. Individual chapters help fulfill device requests, host educational events, and conduct outreach in their communities. They also help organize “build events” that bring students, volunteers, and corporate partners together to build devices from the library.
One particularly successful build event is “Hacking For The Holidays,” a toy hackathon event to adapt commercially available toys for kids with disabilities. “Last year, we had a target of 500 toys. We ended up building over 1,000 toys for children across Canada,” says Suzanne.
Makers Making Change also collaborates with schools and universities through its Youth Making Change project, which aims to raise awareness about assistive technology. Students participate by creating and donating devices, while simultaneously gaining hands-on experience in engineering, 3D printing, and design.
“It’s a great way for students to learn about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] and do something good at the same time,” says Winterflood.
“Good” is an understatement. Omar, who is quadriplegic and uses a “sip-and-puff” device built by Makers Making Change, says that having access to the device has been life-changing.
“I did an exam [by] myself,” he explains. “Usually, in my case, there’s a scriber or someone assisting me. For me, I did it on my own with this device.”
For more information, visit the Makers Making Change website!
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