DIY for PWD talk at ETech

2009 April 15
by Liz Henry
DIY for PWD talk at ETech

Here’s the slides for my Etech talk in March 2009 on DIY for People with Disabilties. There were around 40-50 people in the audience and we had a lively discussion afterwards.

As an introduction to the concept of DIY assistive tech, I explained that many people with standard issue walkers put tennis balls onto the back feet of the walker. This helps the walker glide around more easily. Some walkers have wheels, yet for decades the tennis ball walker hack has persisted. How come? And what other inventions and adaptations are out there? I describe easy DIY projects achievable with materials commonly found in people’s houses or hardware stores, then slightly more complex hacks that may need several people, designs, planning, and technical skills; then bigger hacks that are to societal or global infrastructure and take organization, community, followthrough, and deep commitment.

There are a bunch of examples and links, and a very quick overview of some of the history of disability rights activism.

This was the talk description:

Wheelchairs aren’t any more complicated than bicycles, but they cost a ridiculous amount of money. They shouldn’t. Neither should other simple accessibility and mobility equipment. In the U.S., people with disabilities who need adaptive devices depend on donations, charitable agencies, insurance, and a corrupt multi-billion dollar industry that profits from limiting access to information.

With a cultural shift to a hardware DIY movement and the spread of open source hardware designs, millions of people could have global access to equipment design, so that people with disabilities, their families, and their allies can build equipment themselves, and have the information they need to maintain and repair their own stuff.

Since we can’t all do it ourselves or weld our own chairs, we also should encourage a different mindset for the industry. You can’t stand up all day at your desk, but you don’t need a doctor to prescribe you a $6000 office chair. A consumer model rather than a medical and charity model for mobility aids would treat wheelchairs simply as things that we use to help us get around, like cars, bikes, or strollers.

Small assistive devices such as reacher/grabbers, page turners and book holders, grip extenders, can be made with bits of rubber tubing, PVC pipe, and tools as simple as box cutters and duct tape. Rather than obsess over impossible levels of healthiness and longevity, we need to change people’s expectations of how they will deal with changing physical limitations. Popularizing simple designs, and a DIY attitude for mobility and accessibility gear, will encourage a culture of invention that will be especially helpful to people as they age.

You can download the DIY for PWD slides in PDF format directly, if you’d prefer.

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