How the maker movement is transforming care

Daelyn James, 14, likes to make things.With just some wooden sticks, an electric fan, and some plastic rings made with a 3D printer, Daelyn built a device to help kids with Cystic Fibrosis dry their nebulizers. An innovative solution homemade.

The maker movement demystifies and democratizes care device design.What’s exciting about the maker movement in care is that the possibilities are endless and can come from anywhere. From low-tech to high-tech solutions makers are solving real problems for patients, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional medical equipment. And in many cases, citizens themselves are the makers, like Daelyn.

// An example of maker community-driven care

Franco [not his real name] is an Italian music teacher and engineering student. He suffers from severe visual impairment. He has two projects in mind: (1) building a kit of Lego-style components to quickly assemble and prototype electronic circuits designs; (2) learning how to 3D-design and 3-D print. The first project would help him with his studies, allowing him to sketch on-the-fly electronic circuits diagram without having to deal with small graphics symbols, which is all but impossible with his eyesight; the second project would enable him to build a small device to hold his white cane when he needs both hands (example: at the supermarket checkout he needs to handle his wallet, and there is no obvious place to rest his cane).

Franco got in touch with his local makerspace (WeMake) to figure out whether he can follow their digital fabrication and Arduino courses, and pursue his projects in spite of his disability. Together with WeMake, he decided to do so, following individual courses so that he becomes a part of the local maker community. At that point, he will lead on designing his two projects – he will likely carry out much of the work himself, but be helped by other makers who excel at specific tasks like soldering or 3D printing, as is normal in this community – and act as their “user zero”. If the projects are successful, and if Franco and the other makers think they might be useful to other people with the same impairment as him, WeMake will partner with him to build a small, open hardware-based business to produce and market those artifacts. Being open, any artifact Franco designs can be reproduced and improved upon in any makerspace in the world feeding his files to local 3D printers, laser cutters etc.

This bottom-up, open knowledge-enabled approach to care is not contemplated in the context of Italy’s national health service. People in need of care are represented in existing care service systems as passive agents: “patients” or “beneficiaries”. In many cases, such services support them in buying artifacts, like white canes or wheelchairs, but not in buying expertise to make or hack the artifacts they need. The cost for Franco’s individual courses are carried in part by WeMake, and in part by funds raised on the side, with the help of a local association of blind and visually impaired people.

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