Students Engineer Solutions to Disability Issues at TOM:UCI
About forty engineering students and community members participated in UCI’s first annual TOM:UCI Makeathon last weekend, a student-driven event dedicated to inventing affordable solutions for people with disabilities. TOM:UCI, a subsidiary of Tikkun Olam Makers, is one of the first such events to take place at a university.
The 72-hour building marathon at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering featured five teams of seven students each, who spent April 28-30 using 3D printers, laser-cutting machines, and an array of materials to create simple, original designs which will be open-sourced online and available for general use.
Each team spent the previous month working with a “need-knower,” a person who has a disability or is affiliated with the disabled community, to create a solution for a specific problem.
“These are conditions that are too rare to fix, in most cases, so these need-knowers have fallen through the cracks,” said Lorenzo Valdevit, an associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and senior adviser of TOM:UCI.
The program works by connecting “individuals to individuals,” Valdevit said during the event. Teams focus on designing products not currently on the market, and finding specific solutions for their need-knowers. According to TOM Global Advisor Michal Kabatznik, the three-year-old program’s goal is to help 250 million people in this way by 2024.
The UCI initiative was led by second-year business student Elisa Tran and fourth-year history and engineering student Tin Hong. Tran and Hong began planning for TOM:UCI in July 2016, after visiting TOM’s global headquarters on a mission trip to Tel Aviv.
“We were on a fact-finding mission in Israel, in which UCI students can learn more about Israeli-Palestinian relations,” said Hong. “We never expected to be introduced to TOM, but as soon as [Tran] heard about it, she ran with it and she knew she wanted to introduce the Makeathon here at UCI.”
Tran and Hong began organizing teams of need-knowers and engineering students earlier this year. The five teams were chosen in early April and matched to a need-knower, each of whom offered a diverse range of problems, from medical issues to daily inconveniences. While each team was able to design throughout the month, they had only three days to execute the plans.
One team worked to design an accessible umbrella attachment for their need-knower’s wheelchair. While the umbrella is currently opened manually, the team hopes to fully motorize the attachment in the future, so that more wheelchair-bound people can adopt the design regardless of their range of mobility.
Another team partnered with an occupational health therapist to design a device to put on compression socks, which increase leg circulation and help prevent venous disorders such as edema. Many people who wear these socks are obese or otherwise limited in their range of motion. The machine assists by stretching the socks and allowing a person to slide their foot in without bending down.
A third team developed an ergonomic knee cushion for knee replacement patients, so that they may kneel down without putting pressure on their joints or losing their balance.
Another group of students partnered with a stroke victim who lost the use of her left limbs ten years ago. The students aimed to help her with two issues: the first, that she cannot get up if she falls somewhere without anything to lean on. Second, she cannot zip up a jacket by herself. The team aimed for simple, affordable solutions; they transformed a compact tripod into a weight-bearing prop for stroke victims to carry around. Should one fall, one can use the tripod to bear their weight on one side while they stand up. The jacket problem had a “two-dollar solution,” according to the team; they simply attached a clip to the bottom of a jacket and fastened it to the waistband of a pair of pants. This holds the jacket steady while the need-knower zips it up with one arm.
The final team worked with a need-knower with dwarfism, who has difficulty reaching into top-loading washers and dryers to do her laundry. The team designed a series of water-permeable laundry bags with long drawstrings, which can be filled with clothes and tied up before washing. When the need-knower is ready to retrieve the clothes, the team designed a hook she can use to grab the bags by their strings without needing to stand on any platform.
After the Makeathon, each team received an invitation from Google to present their inventions at the company’s headquarters in Irvine.
Tran and Hong hope to make TOM:UCI an annual event, and hope that more universities will adopt the program after seeing it implemented at UCI.
“Look out for TOM:UCI 2018 next year,” said Tran. “This experience has been inspiring beyond words for everyone who participated, and I can’t wait to see it continue.”