Two people stand discussing plans for a lap tray with a woman sitting in a wheelchair.

The Shepherd Center is a 152 bed private not-for-profit hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and other neuromuscular conditions.

With a heavy focus on innovation, their mission is to help people with disabilities “rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity, advocating for their full inclusion in all aspects of community life while promoting safety and injury prevention.” It’s a perfect fit for a Makers Making Change chapter.

“The [Makers Making Change] mission aligns so well with Shepherd’s mission, it just seemed like a really natural fit,” says chapter leader Kristen Webber, a dual spinal cord and brain injury specialist and currently an Inpatient Therapy Manager in Sheperd’s Spinal Cord Injury Unit.

“We’re addressing the socioeconomic barriers that people may have and connecting them with a community where they have the power to get the resources they need,” she continues.

“Like for example, we have a 3D printer, but maybe we don’t have some of the other devices or materials needed to fabricate things, Makers Making Change is a platform where we have a couple of people out in Athens that have far more experience than I do with fabricating things, and they’ve been at our fingertips, as have the other maker community in Atlanta — Atlanta has a really robust maker community. Makers Making Change has allowed the Shepherd Center to tap into that maker community and come at it with an authentic platform.”

One of the big upsides of the chapter is that it brings together the different departments of the Shepherd Center.

An early project saw Adina Bradshaw, a specialist in the assistive technology center, and Erin Radcliffe, an engineer in the research department, work together to design sip and puff masks.

“They actually were chatting about different things they were both developing and created the design,” Kristen says.

teenager light skinned boy wearing a medical mask with a tube coming out of it

The chapter’s first build event in August last year produced 140 sip and puff masks. Now, Shepherd Center volunteers frequently make a few sip and puff masks when they have a bit of free time.

More recently, the Shepherd Center chapter held a Hackathon on April 1st.

“Individuals from all departments took place, so we actually had engineering there, we had biomed participate, we had nurse practitioners, we had individuals that worked in the cafeteria, environmental services, you name it, we had every type of employee there, along with clinical and non-clinical — it was so exciting. Peer support participated, as did the assistive technology specialists, you really had everyone,” Kristen explains.

Participants were divided into six teams to design a solution to one of two common issues faced by Shepherd Center patients — carrying a lunch tray with hot and cold items, and the ability to press the buttons on an elevator. The teams used materials upcycled from items discarded in the hospital.

“It was a hit, and it was a great way to get the key stakeholders involved here at the center,” she says. “And people have been using the solutions that were created during the hackathon to address those two issues in the center which is really exciting.”

Adaptive Gaming

A man in a wheelchair plays video games with friends using assistive technology.

Even before they started a Makers Making Change chapter, adaptive gaming was a big focus at the Shepherd Center, with an inpatient adaptive gaming program that meets every other week.

While video games sometimes get a bad rap, they are a great way for people with disabilities to connect and communicate, especially during a pandemic.

“Basically some of the most frequent clients we would consult on are individuals like a father and son that wanted to play football before, while now they’re playing football through Madden, and that’s the new avenue they play football together,” Kristen says.

The Shepherd Center has already hosted two adaptive gaming tournaments — the most recent had 64 gamers registered and raised funds for the Center’s adaptive gaming initiative — but both were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the Makers Making Change chapter, they are looking to host an adaptive gaming tournament that has something for everyone.

“Obviously gaming is quite expensive, and it can take several switches, specialized controls, all these things to get some of these people to be able to game properly in whichever game is most important to them,” Kristen explains.

“We hope to, after we get the tournament rolling, to have it be a hybrid event, that way community members that have disabilities that maybe don’t have the funds to game, can come actually try the different set-ups, so initially we had this vision of setting up different types of games with different types of controllers and set-ups so you could actually trial this equipment with a specialist and say, ‘This is really meaningful to me,’ and they could either compete or just play for the day, and also have the set tournament for individuals that registered in advance.

“We could host a build day or a build event in tandem with and before all these adaptive gaming tournaments, so we could use the adaptive gaming tournaments as a way to provide an opportunity for community members to try assistive technology and then provide it to them at no cost.”

The Shepherd Center’s Makers Making Change chapter continues to grow, and they continue to plan events and increase their impact. Up next is a dice spinner build on June 10, which they are already starting to print materials for.

“I feel like our chapter has been able to accomplish a lot because I have such a great team, like I can’t emphasize enough that Adina and Erin created [sip and puff masks], my OTD student Stephanie really helped lift and standardize how we use our printer as a chapter. I’m just really proud of the team and I think it just shows the strength of open source and collaboration and bringing people together.”