Maker Volunteer Ken Hackbarth sitting infront of his computer and 3d printer at his workstation

This week, Makers Making Change celebrates the 100th assistive device added to our open source assistive device library! Some devices in our library are designed by our internal engineer team. However, most are created and contributed by community members by makers, disability professionals or people with disabilities who know exactly what they need.  To celebrate our 100th device, we’d are acknowledging the contributions of a maker who contributes so much to our community: Ken Hackbarth of

Over the past 4 years, Ken has contributed countless hours of design work, as well as offering support and suggestions in the Makers Making Change community. If you’ve ever needed help with a keyguard through our site, chances are you’ve been in touch with Ken! Of the 100 designs in the library, he has contributed 8; the most of any user on our site! To say thank you, we are highlighting an interview with Ken so our community can learn a little bit more about the people who make the Makers Making Change program possible.

What is your background professionally and as a maker? 

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona.  I also picked up a Master’s Degree in Systems and Industrial Engineering while I was there.  Later, I earned a Master’s Degree in Special Education with a concentration in Assistive Technology from Bowling Green State University.  I worked for almost three decades as a systems architect at AT&T Bell Labs and it’s various divestitures.

Most of my training in design came from four years of drafting in high school.  I had short-lived ambitions of becoming an architect of underwater cities…  I learned programming in the military (punch cards) and extended my skills in college.  I developed charityware as an avocation using Visual Basic for about 20 years.

Were you always a maker? What are some of your earliest ‘maker’ memories?

I grew up in a middle class family, in the mid-west, with two brothers.  If you wanted to have something you probably had to make it yourself and add a generous dollop of imagination and fearlessness (because what you made was pretty sloppy – and dangerous).  I remember aspiring to be a fly fisherman in my early teens.  My earliest maker-memory is tying my own housefly fly.  I was too proud of it to ever let it touch the water, much less the mouth of a fish.

How did you hear about Makers Making Change? 

In 2018, I was asked to provide a poster session at the Assistive Technology Conference of New England.  My topic was “The Special Synergy of 3D Printing and Assistive Technology”.  I wanted to provide lots of examples of 3D-printed assistive technology.  A Google search led me to Makers Making Change and I included several MMC designs.

What inspired you to contribute designs to the assistive device library?

Initially, I posted my designs at Thingiverse and several other sites, including Makers Making Change.  As I did more research, I learned how special MMC is.  As far as I can tell, MMC is the only site devoted to assistive technology that also has a relatively stable funding stream.  It also has real “employees” who can curate the designs. Staff post and facilitate the collaboration of makers, therapists and disabled individuals.  Now, during my presentations at AT conferences, I encourage people who contemplate designing 3D-printable AT to post their designs to Thingiverse and in the Makers Making Change Assistive Device Library at a minimum.

What tools and technologies do you use in your designs?

I use Fusion 360 to visualize designs.  If my design won’t benefit from customization or personalization, I stop there.  If I anticipate ways in which my design could be customized or personalized, I reimplement the design in OpenSCAD.  Because people with disabilities’ needs are so varied, I believe all AT designs should be customizable.

In your estimation, how many devices have you made for people with disabilities in total?

A more relevant question would be “How many of my designs are in use by people with disabilities?”  My goal is to get AT in general, and my designs in particular, into the hands of as many people as possible.  I don’t think I can achieve that goal by putting myself into the critical path.  So instead, I focus on creating designs that are easily implemented, customized, and personalized.  I document my designs in detail in the hope that they can be implemented by therapists, caregivers, and disabled individuals without my help.  My keyguard designer currently has 256 “remixes” on Thingiverse and I have no way to know how many keyguards have been created by people who downloaded the designer to use with their local copy of OpenSCAD.

I’ve created devices for several individuals who’ve personally reached out to, contacted me via the Makers Making Change forum, or have found me through an AT conference.  I love to help therapists and STEM teachers get started with their own customization and implementation of Open Source AT designs.

3D Printed Keyguard mounted to tablet