a picture of a team at the Access Makeathon showing off their device

Five years ago today we hosted the Access Makeathon.

On January 27th, 2017, makers and people with disabilities came together in Vancouver, BC to work with each other over a 48 hour period to develop a device that improves the quality of life for the person with a disability. By the end of the event, each team developed a working prototype.

While work on the LipSync as an open-source makeable assistive device began the year before, the Access Makeathon really represented the start of Makers Making Change and one of the first steps in the mission of connecting people with disabilities with volunteer makers to create affordable assistive technology.

A wide shot of multiple groups working on their devices at the Access Makeathon

The core idea of the Access Makeathon was that the person with a disability is the expert of their own needs, and as such they came up with the idea for an assistive device to address their needs and were the centre of their teams. Makers were able to apply their knowledge and skills to address a real world need.

Makers were split into 10 teams, each captained by a person with a disability. Here are some of their stories:

Jim and Isabelle

Jim had recently suffered a spinal cord injury and had just returned home from rehabilitation at GF Strong. His wife, Isabelle, is hard of hearing, and he cannot yell due to low lung volume and because he wears a bi-pap mask to assist his breathing. When he had an issue in the middle of the night that requires assistance, it was difficult to wake her up.

Jim and his team worked on a sip and puff device that he could use to activate a vibrating alarm to wake Isabelle.

“I was impressed. The energy these young people had to move all these issues forward, and working really hard to try to help people like me,” Jim said.

“I think the cool part is seeing the exchange of knowledge from you to them, and them to you,” said Isabelle. “And perhaps more than knowledge, that exchange of insight into each other’s worlds.”

Ashley

Ashley has cerebral palsy, and worked with her team to create a cupholder for her crutches, allowing her to carry a hot beverage.

“It is a frustration, of like, I just poured this tea and I’d really like to drink all of it but, I don’t know, three quarters of it is probably gonna be gone if I don’t find someone else to take it for me,” she said.

“I would say, anyone should participate in a Makeathon if they could, because it will restore your faith in humanity.”

Rashmi

This story is from the perspective of a maker.

Rashmi, a UBC engineering student, joined a team to help Timothy, a 10-year old boy, play Wii games. Timothy had an anoxic brain injury when he was nearly two years old, and had difficulty with pushing the buttons as well as using the analogue thumb joystick on the nunchuck.

Rashmi and her team worked on an accessible controller that allowed Timothy to play games like Lego Star Wars and Mario Kart. Team member Mimi even etched an image of Obi Wan Kenobi on the controller, as that was Timothy’s favourite character.

“You don’t realize that something could be modified to be made more accessible until you see someone struggle with it,” Rashmi said.

“Working with Timothy was such a delight and to be able to see the smile on his face when he got his Wii controller, it was the biggest reward that I could have ever gotten. It was a very touching moment for me and it made me realize that this is what I want to do. I want to work for people, I want to help them, I want to enhance the quality of their lives.”

Five Years Later

“Our goal is not just to make one piece of assistive technology, but to help create a culture where people with disabilities can have easy access to assistive technologies that suit their individual need, and a maker community engaged to providing those solutions,” said Director of Innovation Chad Leaman at the time.

Since the Access Makeathon, Makers Making Change has grown that community of makers and people with disabilities, and brought that mission across the US and Canada, with chapters in BC, Ontario, Louisiana, Florida, New York, and more.

With over 150 open-source devices in our library and counting, volunteer makers and people with disability can work together to make and customize devices that suit their individual needs. With the design challenges in our forums, people with disabilities can post ideas for devices that they need and work with makers to make them a reality.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted many of our events online, last year Makers Making Change hosted 44 events.

The Access Makeathon was the beginning of a movement, and five years later Makers Making Change continues to grow. Here’s to the next five!