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Specific Challenges Faced by DIY-ATers – Arthur Torrey and Erik Kondo

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Power wheelchair user using equipment in a machine shop.
Art at the Artisan's Asylum

The field of assistive technology has the potential to greatly enhance the quality of life for people in the Adaptive Community. Yet, the people with disabilities who are involved in creating assistive technology as part of the DIY-AT movement face many challenges that hinder their ability to succeed. Given the lived experience of people with disabilities, they have unique insight and a perspective that is invaluable for the innovation and production of functional assistive technology. Therefore, societal efforts to overcome these barriers will produce a significant payoff down the road.

The following is an incomplete list of these challenges:

1. The nature of being disabled often makes it far more difficult for a person to create the DIY-AT items that would be desired. Obviously a 'high-quad' will lack the manual ability to make something, but even with less severe disabilities, it can often be a challenge to do things that would be simple for a non-disabled person. Often before even starting to work on creating an idea, it is necessary to create the adaptive technology needed or figure out how to use tools in nonstandard ways.

2. While some technologies (such as 3D printing) are becoming more accessible / affordable, many of the tools and technologies potentially useful to DIY-AT makers are not available to them due to their complexity / expense, and the vast majority of potential makers don't have the knowledge and skills that would be needed to use them (i.e. metalworking beyond basics, welding, etc.) Because of this, a lot of ideas never get explored unless the creator can convince someone in the Institutional AT world to make it or find a helper with the needed skills and equipment access.

3. Product liability concerns and regulatory issues, (both from expected sources like UL, and unusual ones (such as the FDA, is it a medical device or not????)) are barriers to anyone creating DIY-AT that wants to take their creations to the point of distributing them at any significant scale.

4. There is a lack of a good system for 'knowledge sharing' so that DIY-AT creators can spread their ideas and plans to others with desires for similar things. There are many 'silos' of particular ideas, but no real central repository that collects them. This leads to a certain level of constant 'reinventing the wheel' as opposed to either reusing existing ideas or developing them further. (I don't know that this is solvable...)

5. While there are individuals and groups that are willing to help out with some of these challenges (I like to point at the Maker-Space community) there doesn't seem to be a good way to connect the people with ideas to the people that can help make them real.

6. Many DIY-ATers don’t have the financial resources to fund projects. Even relatively simple R&D requires the ability to experiment with multiple methodologies which can be prohibitory expensive for many people with disabilities living on a fixed income.

7. Many engineering schools are not inclusive to students with disabilities. The physical environment and curriculum of the classes, workshops and laboratories are not designed to be accommodating to them. Therefore, many DIY-ATers lack the basic skills of design, engineering, and fabrication as compared to their nondisabled peers.

The above points are just a few of the many challenges faced by DIY-ATers in their quest to adapt devices for use for people with disabilities. Historically, Institutional AT has primarily been centered around advancing its own technological innovations. But Institutional AT is in the unique position of having the ability to advance of movement of DIY-AT due to its access to resources, facilities, education, and funding. It is our hope that by shining a light on these issues, more will be done to address the challenges faced by DIY-ATers, and to encourage the DIY-AT movement.


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