How DIY and the Maker Movement Can Help Students in Need

Meet me, Divya, a software engineer by profession and a tinkerer by hobby. I make all types of creative things using the objects I have accessible. Like a parking garage made of empty paper towel rolls for my son to park his toy cars in or another project close to my heart, making handmade cards and bags to raise funds for a school that’s meant for differently abled kids, such as one boy in particular. For the sake of this blog, we’ll call him Ram.

Figure 1: Divya fund raising for Ram's school

Figure 1: Divya fund raising for Ram’s school

 

As part of my passion towards helping these differently abled kids such as Ram, I also create toys that are useful for their cognitive development. With the busy life of an Engineer and also Mom to two young boys, I am not always able to create as many toys as I would like to.  So, that got me thinking,  could I adapt off the shelf educational toys for Ram? Yes! Ram cannot move as normal kids and so cannot interact with a toy to a level that provides maximum learning. By altering it in a manner that helps overcome his disability, he can engage with the toy and learn from it.

Figure 2: Ram walking in his school

Figure 2: Ram walking in his school

 

With the help of makers, tinkerers & DIYers, I was able to find ways to adapt any off the shelf toy for Ram. For example, using basic soldering and wiring techniques you can alter how someone interacts with a toy. Think of it like attaching a custom remote designed to overcome a child’s unique disability. Now Ram, who is physically challenged can interact with the toy at the desired level and get the most out of it. This is all thanks to the Maker movement, it’s a matter of looking at toys or any object we find differently. Be it on the shelf at a store or in your online shopping kart, it doesn’t have to be thought of only as a static finished product that is unalterable, thinking about how you can customize it for personal needs opens up a wealth of possible uses.

As I interact with young kids in Ram’s school I also think about their future and worry about the career choices they might make when they grow up. I worry that if a certain thing is not designed to work with their needs then they might not consider it as an option for them or even become intimidated by it. For instance, I can see a potential threat of these students not considering a career in Science or Technology if assistive technology is not fully integrated in a work environment.  So, I take it as a personal mission to help enable these kids and inspire others to help enable them.

To deeply embed DIY culture in them and equip them with the knowledge required to shape their future and change their environments.  

Figure 3: Ram trying to safely walk down the school aisle

Figure 3: Ram trying to safely walk down the school aisle

The Maker movement and advances in 3D printing will hopefully enable Ram in creating affordable, custom gadgets that suits his personal needs.

Thanks to a collaboration of individual creativity and the support of corporate champions providing development platforms for implementing such unique and novel ideals,  the Maker Movement is building strength. At the Consumer Electronic Show 2014, I was very proud to discover more about how Intel is working towards providing a complete ecosystem for Makers, parts of which Ram could immediately leverage. Parts such as  Intel® Galileo development board and Intel® Edison which are both hardware development platforms for makers. With these platforms and a 3D printer Ram could go as far as designing a gadget/Robot that eases his daily life or maybe even broaden his career options. Perhaps for now, Ram might just create a Robot that warns him of a potential safety issue. Who knows what Ram will make! He might just name his Robot, Lakshman and he might just come to view that robot as a brother and not merely a machine. (Lord Lakshman is a character in Hindu mythology who is a brother and a close companion of Lord Ram).

Divya Kolar

About Divya Kolar

Divya Kolar holds a M.S in Computer Science conferred in 2006 from Portland State University. She joined Intel in 2005 and has previously worked as a Software Engineer where she was an active researcher in various security and manageability technologies like Intel® Active Management Technology. Today she is a Vision Strategist in the Intel’s largest research group and is responsible to promote Intel technologies to external media partners besides performing ecosystem enabling and competitive technology analysis for Intel Labs’ microprocessor research. Besides her responsibilities at Intel she has always been enthusiastic in promoting and encouraging young adults to stay in computing. She is an active board member for the largest women employee group at Intel and has been an active member in Anita Borg Institute and local SWE chapters since 2007 and has conducted multiple presentations at these conferences for over 5 years.

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