Makerthon to empower PWDs

Makerthon to empower PWDs

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) have joined hands to organize a Makerthon event focused on producing assistive devices for children and youth with disabilities.

Namgyal T Gyaltshen, from Druk Holding and Investment (DHI)  said that the Makerthon event helped in building solutions based on the needs of ‘need knowers,’ with each team of 10 individuals working on different solutions tailored for specific requirements.

She shared that the assistive devices created during the Makerthon were designed as prototypes to be tested by individuals with disabilities, paving the way for potential future collaborations to enhance and produce more of these products.

Ryotaro Hayashi, a social sector economist from ADB, shared that assistive devices have to be customized, based on the needs of individuals with disabilities, recognizing the varying levels of needs amongst users. He also mentioned that the devices created for the selected need knower can be customized further for other users with similar disabilities by approaching nearby FabLab.

The Makerthon event aimed to address the gaps in accessibility and providing innovative solutions for children with disabilities through collaboration with fabricators; special education needs (SEN) teachers and coordinators, civil society organizations, and government officials.

Dawa Drukpa, the SEN program leader, shared the importance of providing the right interventions at the right time to uplift the skills of children with disabilities.

Though for now it is focused on seven identified key groups, the SEN program leader said that there may not be difficulties covering other Person with Disability (PWDs) in the future.

With the participation of 70–80 individuals, including two fabricators from FabLab Shinagawa in Japan, the Makerthon event is set to pave the way for inclusive education and support for children with disabilities and PWDs in Bhutan.

Seven working groups have closely engaged with ‘need knowers,’ individuals representing the specific requirements of children with disabilities, to develop assistive devices tailored to their needs using advanced 3D printing technology.

One such ‘need knower’ is twelve-year-old Mendrel Sherab Seldon from Changangkha Middle Secondary School, diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her specific needs led to the development of a phone stand and a paper holder, tailored to improve her mobility and comfort in everyday tasks. They are also developing a hand sketcher for her.

Mendrel shared that most of the time she used to attend tests in verbal form. “I think with the aid of an assistive device, I am able to write and hold writing instruments more comfortably.”

Another need knower is Pema Chhogyel, a visually impaired individual seeking a smart cane solution for independent navigation. He faces challenges due to obstacles such as walls, people, animals, and drains. These obstacles make independent navigation difficult, posing the risk of accidents.

The team is customizing the design and dimensions of the cane to suit the user’s height and preferences, incorporating collapsible or folding designs for portability and sensors to prevent collisions.

Kinzang Tshering is a 16-year-old eighth-grade student at Changangkha Middle Secondary School. Kinzang has had difficulty with motor planning, control, and coordination since he had a brain injury. It is challenging for him to write with stability. He also faces difficulty tying his shoelaces and making oral expressions.

The team had prototypes developed to aid in writing stability and comfort. The adaptive writing prototype aimed to improve his writing stability and reduce pain in his fingers and arms while writing.

Additionally, prototypes such as FlexPrep for paralysis and a gear-shifting self-help device were created to facilitate independent food preparation and smooth gear shifting for people with disabilities.

The Makerthon program features a short-term training session on digital fabrication technology on February 13, followed by a series of team-building activities and dedicated prototyping sessions over the course of the event. The final day has culminated in presentations of the innovative assistive devices created during the Makerthon, followed by an award ceremony.

In the spirit of innovation and inclusivity, the Makerthon event will be conducted annually, inviting different participants. The Makerthon will help in stepping towards empowering youth and people with disabilities by equipping them with the necessary tools and resources to enhance their learning and daily lives.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu