A shower operated by foot pedals, an automatic feeding tray, a surface-adaptable wheelchair, a color-coded flashlight, and makeup “sheets” for people with limited dexterity.
These were among the 106 ideas that American schoolchildren dreamed up for the Make the Change Challenge sponsored by ADI, an Israeli residential and rehabilitative care network for individuals with severe disabilities.
This wasn’t a typical maker event where prototype inventions are 3D printed. The kids were required only to show in a slide presentation how they’d solve a specific challenge for someone they know with any kind of disability.
Also atypical for a maker contest: nine of the 10 semifinalists and all five finalists turned out to be girls!
The grand prize winner, sixth-grader Lindsey Shapiro from Maryland, did create a prototype of her Safe-T-Tape, a removable tactile floor guide for those with visual disabilities.
“I was wondering how people who are blind or visually impaired navigate the world without running into things, because there are so many obstacles,” explained Lindsey in a Zoom meeting on February 28, where we met the top five finalists.
“When I realized that tactile ground surface indicators were used in public places, I started thinking about how the same concept could be applied to all indoor and outdoor areas, without having to construct a whole new floor each time,” Lindsey told us as her proud parents, David and Stacey Shapiro, looked on. “Safe-T-Tape is a solution that promotes independence and is easy to place and remove.”
Dalya Prezant of Florida used a sock and three ponytail holders to fashion her Finger Gripper portable cupholder intended for children with cerebral palsy. The young inventor suggested this device could be made in sturdy silicone decorated with fun or trendy designs.
Hodaya Harary of Tennessee proposed an app-controlled dynamic grocery shelving system for people in wheelchairs. Like a vending machine, items would be secured with prongs and released into a slot after the user taps the code for the desired item on a smartphone.
Sahhar Azulay of Florida explained that the inspiration for her Myxable gadget, which enables people with weak hands to decorate cakes and cookies, was her young cousin with spinal muscular atrophy.
The aim of the competition was to “open the hearts and minds of North American schoolchildren to the needs, viewpoints and experiences of the disability community during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month in February,” according to Elie Klein, ADI’s Director of Development for the US and Canada.
“While this new ‘selfless STEM’ contest could potentially inspire the creation of the next great accessible design solution, our true objective is to encourage the next generation to be thoughtful, sympathetic and see the world through the eyes of others,” Klein said.
In addition to Klein, my fellow judges were Zahava Altshul, director of sports therapy and a special-ed teacher at ADI Jerusalem; Rafi Fischer, director of media communications at OrCam; and Shaiel Yitzchak, a robotics teacher and founder of The LearningWorks afterschool and summer maker program in Jerusalem.
Fischer appreciated finalist Alexandra Wexler’s connected “Travel Glasses” that direct visually impaired people to a destination via oral instructions powered by GPS. OrCam has pioneered AI-driven wearable devices to assist people with visual and auditory limitations.
“OrCam MyEye is a communication tool that works offline. The Travel Glasses you’re proposing would use GPS to make it a communication and mobility tool, and that’s really impressive,” Fischer told Alexandra.
Klein concluded: “We are blown away by the consideration and creativity of our student participants, the newest members of the maker movement.”
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