Tikkun Olam Makers hosts Makeathon to solve challenges associated with disabilities

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Jihoon Park/Staff

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A disability advocacy groups, the Tikkun Olam Makers and Enabletech hosted a UC Berkeley Makeathon over the weekend in which participants spent three days developing products targeting the issues that people with disabilities face.

Innovators worked with individuals with disabilities, called “need-knowers,” to ensure that the products properly addressed their needs. The Makeathon targeted 11 different challenges, ranging from makeup application to house automation.

“Maybe people in my team have never interacted with people with disabilities. Maybe they had some preconceptions of working with disabled people,” said need-knower Bonnie Lewkowicz. “But now they know that we’re not just disabled people, but people with needs.”

The demo event consisted of about 95 innovators and makers. Product developers ranged from first-year students to graduate students, and many were engineering majors.

Graduate student Viola Quach and her team, in collaboration with need-knower Rafe Biggs, won the competition after designing a “leg-bag emptier.” The device wirelessly notifies a mobile app on Briggs’ phone when his catheter bag is full and is more reliable than similar technology on the market, according to Biggs. The team decided on a phone app in order to accommodate for the low dexterity in Biggs’ hands.

Quach said overall, the device cost about $50, which is much more cost-effective when compared to the $400 device that Biggs formerly used. In addition, judges awarded the team with $500 to continue product development.

The plans for different projects will be published online so that they can be continued anywhere by anyone.

Facundo Severi, a campus senior studying electrical engineering and computer sciences, and his team developed HouseAUTO to help campus senior and need-knower Owen Kent use an app to control different functions in his house, such as lights and kitchen appliances. Severi said that since the project is open-sourced, Kent, who is also well-versed in coding, can further develop the application on his own.

The event also had the effect of pairing innovators with people who had different life experiences, consequently broadening their perceptions of people with disabilities, Lewkowicz said.

Campus sophomore Susan Yue, a member of the team that developed a mechanical arm used to pick up objects, called “Gripper,” said Lewkowicz’s input was crucial in the designing phase.

“There were often times we really needed her feedback. Even though we could test on ourselves, we weren’t sure if it would be a fit for Bonnie,” Yue said. “I think that this event really brings attention to a lot of the needs that people have.”

Contact Francesca Munsayac at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fcfm_dc.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article and its accompanying headline may have implied that the event was hosted only by the Tikkun Olam Makers. In fact, Tikkun Olam Makers and Enabletech partnered to host the event.

Correction(s):
A headline accompanying a previous version of this article misspelled Tikkun.

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