Sharing is Caring: Assistive Technology Designs on Thingiverse

CHI, pp. 525-534, 2015.

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Keywords:
designpersonal-scale fabrication3d printingassistive technologies for persons with disabilitiesdisabilityMore(3+)
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We found several assistive technology-related designs spanning a range of ability and that the majority of the assistive technology designers do not themselves have disabilities, nor do they have any training in assistive technology

Abstract:

An increasing number of online communities support the open-source sharing of designs that can be built using rapid prototyping to construct physical objects. In this paper, we examine the designs and motivations for assistive technology found on Thingiverse.com, the largest of these communities at the time of this writing. We present res...More

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Introduction
  • Personal-scale fabrication tools such as 3D printers can enable the rapid development of low-cost, highly customized physical objects.
  • These features are beneficial to the creation of assistive technologies.
  • The use of personal-scale fabrication tools to make modifications to existing AT devices and create novel designs is a growing area of interest (Figure 1).
  • This technology affords not only the ability to reduce costs and personalize devices, it can empower caregivers and end-users of AT to create their own assistive solutions
Highlights
  • Personal-scale fabrication tools such as 3D printers can enable the rapid development of low-cost, highly customized physical objects
  • Descriptions, and our inclusion criteria, eight respondents indicated that they did not perceive their design as targeted to a person with a disability. Examples of this perception included the appropriation of pillboxes as anything-goes storage containers or understating a dexterity aid as “useful”. These examples are an interesting mix of universal design issues and “Accidentally assistive technology” objects, a concept we describe
  • The majority of respondents were members of the STEM and health care community, with fewer than 36% reporting occupations outside of hard science or technology fields. While many of these designers claimed no previous experience with modeling tools, it is important to recognize that 3D modeling, 3D printing, and personal fabrication have roots in engineering and that the formal skills of an engineer may supplement their informal use of these tools
  • We explored the existing community of assistive technology designers within Thingiverse.com
  • We found several assistive technology-related designs spanning a range of ability and that the majority of the assistive technology designers do not themselves have disabilities, nor do they have any training in assistive technology
Methods
  • To better understand the history and use of these models, the authors asked about the process of designing and printing their objects.
  • Most respondents reported building their designs on a personal 3D printer, as opposed to in an office or at a public maker space.
  • Of the designs that weren’t printed, all respondents reported that they did not have access to a 3D printer.
  • The authors could not discern if users were unaware of the existence of the other objects or if they merely perceived their own design to be truly unique
Results
  • Prostheses dominated the list in terms of likes, with four of the top five most liked AT designs being variations on prosthetic hands, but made up less than 17% of the total AT designs.
  • Students made up approximately 14% of the respondents, and less than 3% of respondents indicated 3D printing expertise as their career.
  • Out of a group of 69 designers creating assistive designs, more than 76% of the designers reported that they had no disability themselves and less than 1% had any formal training in assistive technologies.
  • With over 100,000 designs on Thingiverse, the 363 designs the authors identified make up less than 0.004% of the total designs available for download
Conclusion
  • DISCUSSION AND FUTURE

    CHALLENGES

    the authors extrapolate from the findings and contemplate the deeper meanings and future exploration of open-sourced AT designs.

    Diversifying the Designer Population

    More than half of the respondents reported that they had no formal training in 3D modeling and personal fabrication tools.
  • The majority of respondents were members of the STEM and health care community, with fewer than 36% reporting occupations outside of hard science or technology fields
  • While many of these designers claimed no previous experience with modeling tools, it is important to recognize that 3D modeling, 3D printing, and personal fabrication have roots in engineering and that the formal skills of an engineer may supplement their informal use of these tools.
  • The authors hope the technology community provides more access and support to persons with disabilities and to see this community grow
Summary
  • Introduction:

    Personal-scale fabrication tools such as 3D printers can enable the rapid development of low-cost, highly customized physical objects.
  • These features are beneficial to the creation of assistive technologies.
  • The use of personal-scale fabrication tools to make modifications to existing AT devices and create novel designs is a growing area of interest (Figure 1).
  • This technology affords not only the ability to reduce costs and personalize devices, it can empower caregivers and end-users of AT to create their own assistive solutions
  • Methods:

    To better understand the history and use of these models, the authors asked about the process of designing and printing their objects.
  • Most respondents reported building their designs on a personal 3D printer, as opposed to in an office or at a public maker space.
  • Of the designs that weren’t printed, all respondents reported that they did not have access to a 3D printer.
  • The authors could not discern if users were unaware of the existence of the other objects or if they merely perceived their own design to be truly unique
  • Results:

    Prostheses dominated the list in terms of likes, with four of the top five most liked AT designs being variations on prosthetic hands, but made up less than 17% of the total AT designs.
  • Students made up approximately 14% of the respondents, and less than 3% of respondents indicated 3D printing expertise as their career.
  • Out of a group of 69 designers creating assistive designs, more than 76% of the designers reported that they had no disability themselves and less than 1% had any formal training in assistive technologies.
  • With over 100,000 designs on Thingiverse, the 363 designs the authors identified make up less than 0.004% of the total designs available for download
  • Conclusion:

    DISCUSSION AND FUTURE

    CHALLENGES

    the authors extrapolate from the findings and contemplate the deeper meanings and future exploration of open-sourced AT designs.

    Diversifying the Designer Population

    More than half of the respondents reported that they had no formal training in 3D modeling and personal fabrication tools.
  • The majority of respondents were members of the STEM and health care community, with fewer than 36% reporting occupations outside of hard science or technology fields
  • While many of these designers claimed no previous experience with modeling tools, it is important to recognize that 3D modeling, 3D printing, and personal fabrication have roots in engineering and that the formal skills of an engineer may supplement their informal use of these tools.
  • The authors hope the technology community provides more access and support to persons with disabilities and to see this community grow
Tables
  • Table1: Top 15 keywords that appeared in the complete set of 3D models identified as assistive designs
  • Table2: Summary of assistive technology items currently on Thingiverse broken down by construction requirements
  • Table3: Self-reported respondent and target-user abilities
Download tables as Excel
Related work
  • This paper presents a case study of one online community, Thingiverse, and its members’ creation and dissemination of assistive technology. The work sits at the intersection of and contributes to the following research areas: assistive technology, personal fabrication of assistive technology, and online maker communities.

    Assistive Technology Design and Challenges

    For the purposes of this paper, we define assistive technology as any piece of technology that is designed to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities, older adults, or people with chronic health conditions [10]. Adopting this broad definition of accessibility allows us to analyze a range of both mainstream and novel assistive technology designs.

    While assistive technology has the potential to improve people’s lives, gaining access to the appropriate assistive technology can be difficult. Many traditional assistive technology products are expensive and may not adequately meet a user’s unique needs [3,14]. Even if an appropriate, affordable assistive technology exists, a user may choose not to use it due to perceptions of stigma or issues of personal identity [16].
Funding
  • This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No EEEC-0540865
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