So, you’re a Maker, Hacker, Tinkerer, Inventor, DIYer, Code Monkey, or all around Geek, and you think this #MakeHealth Fest sounds interesting and fun. You’re thinking of getting involved, BUT … (and it’s a big “but”) you’re not doing anything exactly, well, health-ish, not that you can think of, anyway. That’s why I’m writing this — just to show how some of these ‘traditional’ maker activities can connect to health projects, can help real people, if you want, in accessible real world ways. I wish I’d had time to make this into a lot of smaller posts, but we’re sending out the #makehealth call for participation next week, and I want all of you to think about how you could be involved or what you’d like to see when you come. You are coming, of course. ;)
I talk about 3d printing a lot. You know, Robohand, Project Daniel, babies with new tracheas, men with new faces, and more. But those are the exceptional examples that make the news. There are so many ways in which 3D printing is helping in more mundane ways. I had a shoulder and wrist injury and was having trouble opening jars. I found I could 3D print a jar lid gripper. Engineering students and physical therapy students at University of Detroit Mercy collaborated on designing better spoons (which they 3D printed). People are using 3D printing to repair broken equipment, make equipment clips to hold wires out of the road, practical things like that. Healthcare students have been using 3d printing to modify or adapt their stethoscopes. There are so many possibilities. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering to be a useful skill.
Arduino Uno, Beaglebone & Raspberry Pi
Arduino Uno, Beaglebone, and Raspberry Pi are inexpensive computing hardware, often used as controllers (microcontrollers) to get other equipment or objects to do something you want. They are incredible for assistive technologies! Something a person wants to do, perhaps used to do, but which is hard for them to do — is there a way you could design an inexpensive object to help them do it? Maybe remote control lights, sound, monitors? Connect them with sensors or trackers to do something when the input reaches a particular level.
How does this connect with health? Many ways. Firstly, most maker techniques and tools can be used as assistive technologies. Try searching any of these with the word(s) assistive or “assistive tech” or “assistive technology”, and you will find a flood of applications.
Google Search: (“Arduino Uno” OR Beaglebone OR “Raspberry Pi”) assistive
Secondly, connecting this to sensors automatically makes possible a wealth of applications in the area of the Quantified Self movement – tracking data about your self and/or home or environment with a goal of promoting and achieving personal health goals. These have been used for personal cardiac monitoring, tracking ECG and pulse rate, blood pressure; it can be used for other types of sensors — GPS, saline levels, alcohol levels, whatever sensors you have; to create a home sleep lab; managing data from mobile phone apps or GPS, such as exercise and calorie expenditure for weight loss; taking prescription meds on time; and much more. These are such inexpensive tools that they really lower the barrier to entry for many folk to get engaged in more hands-on tracking and management to match their personal goals.
Coding & Code-a-thon, Hackerspace & Hackathon
The hardware isn’t much use without code to tell it what to do, so these seem like obvious connections. Everything mentioned in the prior section apply here. Because coding need not be device specific, these can have broader impact, tying in to larger computers, mobile devices, and the whole internet. This broader context makes possible doing things beyond the immediate home environment: tracking air quality issues, localized car emissions, and environmental pollution; customizing or personalizing uses of data from hospital equipment or medical records. This is such a huge idea that there are enormous numbers of events and spaces around the idea of coding for solving healthcare problems.
Maybe you’ve already done some home-gown coding projects to help you in your own life, but you didn’t think of them as being about health as much as just life hacks. There is a lot of interest in those types of home-grown solutions (and finding partners to code ideas other folk have) for exactly those types of projects. Planning, sorting, self-organization, reminders are all skills critical to executive functioning (a psychology jargon term describing these skills). These types of tools and fixes are being used and sought heavily in communities with ADHD, autism-spectrum disorders, mild cognitive impairment, dementia, memory loss, and more. What was a simple life hack for you might turn out to be just what someone else has been looking for. If our brains all worked the same way, we could build one self-organization tool that would work for everyone. Because we are all different, we need many different types of tools, in the hope that one of them will work for that particular person who needs it. At events like this, people who need tools like this might discover people who can build them, or already have.
Or maybe you are someone who has been hacking together bits and pieces of things to track or monitor or solve things for your or a loved one, or is using services like YouTube or Twitter in interesting new ways, but you aren’t sure if we’d like to hear about it. Well, YES! We don’t have unlimited space so we can’t promise a space to everyone with an idea, but we will surely try our best and can’t try unless we hear about what ideas you have.
You might be surprised to find out that most makerspaces have some sort of sewing equipment and space. And you might not realize that sewing has much to do with health, aside from clinic robes and doctor/nurse uniforms. Well, there is a huge market in adaptive apparel, also called adaptive clothing. That’s just for starters.
Most of the adaptive clothing is focused on practical concerns, and sometimes people want to be attractive, too. There is a lot of room in the space of designing attractive and/or professional clothing that is easy to get in and out of for people with various abilities. The growing awareness of this is evident through recent fashion shows employing models with disabilities, and several projects focused on disability fashion.
For some people the concern is that they need help from someone else to get dressed, which presents one set of challenges. For other people, they have reduced mobility or strength or an injury, and need alterations to existing garment styles to be able to manage getting dressed on their own. Imagine not being able to get dressed by yourself, and you’ll quickly realize the importance of adaptive clothing for personal independence. I encountered this challenge myself last Fall when I had a shoulder injury. I had such little range of motion with my dominant arm that I could only get dressed with one hand. That meant I needed all front closures for all garments, and all garments needed to be (very) loose-fitting, but not so loose that they wouldn’t stay up. I had some clothes that fit the bill, but not the right mix to make for a practical work week wardrobe.
Whether with a temporary injury or a permanent health condition, the challenges of designing attractive and functional clothes presents some deeply intriguing opportunities for really creative people with some sewing skills. One of the most fascinating examples to me was of a coat for persons in wheelchairs. I was unaware that often they also have problems using their hands. The solution was to sew the coat with ‘mittens’ sewn onto the end of the sleeves, ones that could be zipped up when needed, and when not needed, unzipped and folded back to look like a cuff. How creative!
The phrase “wearable tech” is fairly new, a few years old, but the idea of it is ancient. Eyeglasses are wearable tech. Slings for broken limbs is wearable tech. So are crutches and canes, in a sense. Wristwatches are, definitely! Now, we have smartwatches to go with our smartphones, and phones are wearable technology! You can add in sensors, like these to track heart beats, relative position, or location. Many folk I know think of wearable tech with GPS (global positioning system) as being for geo-caching games, but it is used possibly almost as much for tracking children or persons with dementia who’ve gone wandering. The possibilities here to connect tech to health and well-being are virtually infinite.
Yes, woodworking. Like most of these, this goes two directions. Maybe you’d like to talk about how you designed a lightweight sturdy portable DIY wheelchair curb ramp, or a portable wheelchair ramp for homes. Or an extra gorgeous in home ramp. Or a custom shelving solution for accessing hard-to-reach or heavy items for someone with mobility challenges. Or a wall-mounted flip-up flip-down lockable railing for someone living in a small space with occasional balance issues. Or how you designed an accessible building from the ground up — maybe a “treehouse” or playground for a special kid, or maybe an entire house. Maybe smaller projects. Woodworkers and people working in 3D printing could easily collaborate on sharing or modifying patterns for simple assistive tech. Those assistive tech spoons and grippers being made on 3D printers aren’t terribly sturdy, but if you made them out of wood, they would be both sturdy and beautiful.
On the other hand, maybe you’d like to talk about what modifications and accommodations were needed to make a wood working studio accessible and usable and safe for a person with multiple sclerosis or in a wheelchair. Or what type of modified grippers you used for lathes and die jigs.
You can take these ideas a lot further than I have here. Arts and crafts are therapeutic for stress reduction, but also can be used to teach core science and mathematics skills, probably health information and skills, too. Origami concepts have been used widely in health sciences from making more powerful flexible batteries (which could someday be used in bio-implants) to designing anatomical models, to folding of molecular processes and nanostructures. You can even make a microscope with paper crafting, and gaming VR systems! Sustainable gardening and urban foraging connect to public health through addressing diet, nutrition, access to healthy local foods. There are so many ways in which we can use the DIY approach to improve health, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our community.