Worker from Blythedale Children's Hospital team up with makers to build wireless toy controls for children with limited dexterity and mobility.

Need-Knowers Guide Team Projects at TOM Makeathon

TOM was started in Israel with a vision to improve the lives of millions by creating devices that cater to the special needs of individuals.

Today kicked off the 21st TOM Makeathon and Hackathon, being held for the first time at the New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Over the next three days, teams of makers and coders will work with “need-knowers”—people with special needs or people that work with them daily—to create devices and software that will accommodate them in certain everyday tasks. Equipped with coffee, meals, and resources at the New Lab, teams will have two days to finish their products before presenting to judges and friends on Sunday. 

TOM, or Tikkun Olam Makers, was started in Israel with a vision to improve the lives of millions by creating devices that aid people with various abilities. Over two and a half years, the event has been held in 17 communities and 168 challenges have been met to produce devices that cater to people based on individual needs. Recent projects include a low-cost wheel chair that can expand as a child grows, and a mechanical gripper for a woman born without arms that can be controlled with discrete mouth movements. 

Before the Makeathon event, need-knowers submitted challenges they face in their daily lives. Fifteen were chosen, and makers gathered at a meet-and-greet at the beginning of the month to build teams and decide which challenge they wanted to try to solve. For the co-located Hackathon, participants chose between two challenges—one pertaining to language decoding for an interface that lets people input their talents and interests to find jobs, and another pertaining to a graphical user interface that improves the workflow for individuals with special needs. 

The first group huddled around a table with various toys. On one side of the table were workers from Blythedale Children's Hospital presenting a challenge to improve toys for children with mobility and dexterity limitations. “Already, there are companies that make toys activated with a single, large red button,” says need-knower Aureen Deimone, Chief Administrative Officer at Blythedale. “But they tend to be expensive, and limited to only certain toys. Meanwhile, some kids could want to play with, say the batman, or this brand new Jack-in-the-Box. We want to make a button that is wireless and can connect with any toy.”

Makerbot donated more than a dozen printers for the NYC TOM Makeathon.

Makerbot donated more than a dozen printers for the NYC TOM Makeathon at the New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Participants also had access to a machine shop and welding tools. 

Next, software engineer Bob Paradiso from Independent Care Systems works with need-knower, Dwight McKayne to create a single-button remote for people with limited dexterity due to conditions like paralysis. A user can activate the button to choose from functions displayed on a screen, and then proceed to control functions on TV, heating, air conditioners, and other devices. The team explains their project in the video below: 

All 15 challenges are listed below: 

  1. Compact, portable device to assist need-knower standing up: A 16-year-old need-knower has SMA, a progressive neuromuscular disorder which impacts his ability to walk long distances, climb stairs and curbs, and to get in and out of cars easily. The young need-knower has difficulty standing from a seated position. Often, leaning on a surface to pull himself up is not sufficient, impacting his independence at school when class finishes and impeding his ability to independently rise from a toilet that is not elevated for his use.
  1. Adaptive tech for weight machines: Most weight machines are designed for able-bodied users. A 27-year-old need-knower was born with hypoxic encephalopathy and his entire right side (arm and leg) is affected, making weight lifting machines difficult to use. Challenge is to create adaptive device for weight machine attachment and gym equipment.
  2. Independent/modified feeding solutions: A 9-year-old need-knower with Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy has difficulty with self-feeding due to motor planning difficulties (dyspraxia) and ongoing oral-motor issues: she is unable to open her mouth wide (due to inflexibility of the jaw hinge) and to move her tongue bilaterally. Challenge is to create utensils to aid independent/modified feeding.
  3. Manual wheelchair that can be propelled by methods other than arm/hand: A 6-year-old need-knower with cerebral palsy has limited mobility in his arms and hands. The challenge is to create a “fun mobility chair” which utilizes alternate self-mobility devices like pedals which will strengthen his legs. Ideally, the creation should be lightweight and easy to fold and transport.
  1. Lightweight oxygen tank carrier (including stair use): Individuals with pulmonary diseases who are dependent on oxygen supplements need to carry around an oxygen tank. The tanks are heavy and difficult to carry around for individuals. Challenge is to create an easy, light, and safe way to tow an oxygen tank while out in the community i.e. grocery shopping, walking in the mall.
  2. Toys for children that run by switches: The switch toys on the market today are limited in variety, generally are expensive, and are often not durable. Many are not sufficiently stimulating for special needs children who crave a normalized environment that will allow them to use the same popular toys that other children have. The challenge is to create a wireless interface between the child’s switch and the toy. (While there are toy adapters on the market, they come with hanging wires which are dangerous for children and can break easily.) The device should also be easy for any able-bodied user to insert into the battery pack.
  1. Ring splints - software: Children with disabilities often have fingers with atypical posturing--a child’s finger joints may appear to bend backward. When fingers are held in better alignment, children have better use of their hands. Ring splints are small, plastic orthotics that hold fingers to improve alignment. They are available commercially but stock sizes do not fit children appropriately and the custom silver splints are overly expensive. The challenge is to develop ring splints in custom sizes, colors and shapes for all children with disabilities. The challenge is to develop an application that will generate a 3D file of a pre-designed splint based on a patient’s measurements available for therapist use.
  1. Customizable support chair: Many children with disabilities do not have the motor control to independently sit upright. When provided with a chair with sufficient support, they are able to use their eyes and hands for learning and play. The challenge is to create a customizable pre-school chair providing optimal postural support for a disabled child. The chair should provide support for the child’s trunk, hips and head and have the ability to tilt in space for times when a child needs to lean back for support.
  1. Head Thrust Stopper for Angelman Syndrome: 11-year-old need-knower has a tendency to thrust her head backwards when walking causing both herself and her caregiver behind her to lose balance. This will also occur when she is using a walker. Challenge is to create a head support unit to keep her from thrusting her head backwards. Additionally, swinging is a calming activity for the young need-knower. The challenge is to create a swing in a secure setup which would would allow her to strengthen both her legs and her core.
  2. Accessible device for wheelchair bag: Disabled individuals with non-motorized wheelchairs do not have a bag or basket in front or on the side of their wheelchair. Bags are hanged at the back where they can't be viewed, requiring assistance for access. The challenge is to create a hanging device on the side of non-motorized wheelchairs that will be independently accessible for the user.
  3. Independent hair grooming: 29-year-old need-knower with multiple disabilities has dyspraxia which interferes with his ability to correctly sequence motor movements, especially complicated ones. He has limited range of movement in his shoulders and wrists and often does not cross the “midline" with his arm. His disorder also prevents his muscles from moving the way his brain tells them to. The challenge is to create assistive tech that will allow him to independently brush and blow dry his hair.
  4. One-button remote: A quadriplegic maker and need-knower is looking to create a one-button remote. The buttons on a standard remote are too close together, and changing channels is difficult without pressing more than one button.
  5. Multi-purpose assistive tech: A 4-year-old need-knower has Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita: curved joints, little to no muscle. The challenge is to create a device that will assist the young need-knower to self-dress and to assist with writing (“gravity is his worst enemy, so his arm needs to be held by the elbow so he can write/draw.”)
  6. Accessibility in urban environments: Need-knower in a wheelchair is seeking a portable, light-weight ramp to achieve greater accessibility in urban environments. Another challenge is to create a removable device (i.e. handles) that would allow able-bodied individuals to more easily lift and carry her scooter in limited access situations (such as up/down a flight of stairs.)
  7. Anti-slip cane tips and cane hanger: A 19-year-old need knower ambulates with two canes. The canes have rubber tips which are extremely slippery on wet surfaces--rain, snow, mopped floors. Another hazard is that once she is seated in public, her canes need to be put aside. Storing her canes upright isn’t useful as they they often fall. Challenge is to develop anti-slip cane tips and a hanger.

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