Hack-a-Home has been the talk of town for months at AbilityMate HQ. We officially launched the global first initiative in March and spent the last month co-designing with some of the customers at Northott. In this special edition blog you’ll get to hear all about our Hack-a-Home project from three of our team members at AbilityMate – each offering a different perspective.

We’ve already covered Ability Mate’s Hack-a-Home project in the blog. Here is an inspiring update written by the hack-a-homies themselves. The following text was originally published in AbilityMate’s website.

MelT’s Summary

Imagine what it’s like to have a makerspace inside a residential area….

Imagine what it’s like to design your own assistive device from scratch….

Imagine what it’s like to work alongside designers and engineers to create innovative solutions….

That’s what AbilityMate did over the past month. Partnering with Northott Innovation and UTS, we launched a global first initiative, Hack-a-Home. This involved setting up makerspaces inside Northcott’s disability group homes at Beverly Park, Guilford and North Parramatta. Each house has four 3D printers installed, along with all the tools and materials needed for prototyping, and the staff and residents had one week to prototype and design assistive devices they need. We all know there is never a one-sizes-fits-all when it comes to assistive devices in the disability sector, so we want to give our users the opportunity to design something for themselves. Something that can be 3D printed. Something that can make everyday tasks just that little bit easier.

A team of designers and engineers at AbilityMate spent two days per week at each house to lend a helping hand and sort out any technical difficulties with the printers and TinkerCAD. As a designer and peer mentor, it was incredibly rewarding to see our users head down the creative path and bring their own assistive devices to life. From the time they come up with an idea, to the minute they create a rough sketch on paper, to creating a prototype using different materials, up until the moment when their curious eyes watch the 3D printers bring their product to life layer by layer. The smile on their faces is a constant reminder of why I love what i do!

This is a list of some of the popular assistive devices created:

  1. Cup holder
  2. Straw holder
  3. Wheelchair joystick

It still amazes me see the potential of 3D printing and its ability to create life changing technologies.

AbilityMate’s  rebel UX designer, MelT

 Beautiful Kay with her new cup holder!

Beautiful Kay with her new cup holder!

MelF’s summary

The Makers Movement is a massive driving force behind the work i do. Like many others, it gets me out of bed every morning. It’s a movement that is contributing solutions to so many of society’s biggest environmental and social issues like consumerism, supply chains and waste.

What excites me about this movement and the Hack-a-Home project specifically is that they blur the lines between designer, maker and consumer. Ever since joining the maker movement i’ve wanted to be part of a project that combines tools, equipment, culture and knowledge with design challenges at the exact location the problems are experienced. I can now tick that off my bucket list because Hack-a-Home exemplifies the positive impact co-design and location-based fabrication can have.

Where it all started

Lets face it, the Maker Movement could be more inclusive to people of all abilities, genders and backgrounds. I experienced this while travelling Australia and the USA in 2014 visiting 40+ makerspaces, fab labs, tech shops and artists co-ops etc. This is something that’s talked about a lot at AbilityMate. When Johan my co-founder and I met Samantha Frain and Liz Forsyth from Northcott Innovation back in 2015 we got talking about this and also about some of the challenges they were trying to solve with Northcott customers. The issue of Assistive Technology abandonment rates came up. It was at this time the concept of “popping up” makerspaces at Northcott houses was born. Someone said “What would happen if the people who needed bespoke one off products were able to design and make them in the comfort of their own homes” – Said the collective genius in the room.  It was moments later that Hack-a-Home v0.1 was born!

What an incredible collaboration!

Now I’d like to congratulate a few key people and organisations who made Hack-a-Home not only possible but successful:

  • Samantha Frain and Liz Forsyth – Northcott Innovation. Not only did they back the concept and commission the project they pumped it full of enthusiasm and momentum. Apart the major logistical task of co-ordinating 30 customers and 30 staff members from 3 separate houses Sam and the Northcott team particularly took the project to a new level by placing a research lens on it. Together we established Human Research Ethics approval and will be officially reporting on the project when the 6 month interviews are completed.
  • The Northcott customers who embraced our team the tools and like always where the experts in creating their own solutions.
  • The Northcott house manager and carers, couldn’t have done this without you guys.
  • The AbilityMate team and volunteers who i just love and admire. The team took on this project and made it shine. They gave up their weekends and racked up a lot of mileage. Special mentions to volunteers Brodie Elliot, Conroy Bradley, Samuel Leung and Jack Frisch
  • Michael Crouch Innovation Centre contributed generously to the project by providing tools equipment and their amazing staff member/maker extraordinaire Ade Ogunniyi!
  • UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance for assisting with the research element of the project
  • The Northcott marketing team for doing a great job on capturing all the stories and PR.

What were we researching?

The research element of Hack-a-Home will be reported on after the last interview take place in 6 months. The aim of this research project is to answer the following research questions:

  • How does the level of independence in everyday activities and social and economic participation experienced by people with high / complex (disability) support needs change when provided with customised Assistive Technology (AT) devices created through 3D fabrication?
  • How are the retention rates and utilisation rates of AT devices impacted on by customisation?
  • How does participation in person centred co-design practices impact on the experiences of people with high/complex disability support needs?
  • How does establishing 3D fabrication technology within the home environment of people with disability impact on rates of AT utilization and/or abandonment?

Future Potential

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2012) about one in five or 4.2 million Australians are classified as having some form of disability. The ABS finds people aged between 15 and 64 and living with a disability have lower labour force participation and higher unemployment rates than people living without disability, lower levels of educational attainment, and lower participation in cultural, recreational and sporting activities.

Assistive technology is used extensively by the elderly and people living with disabilities in Australia and elsewhere and has a high and beneficial impact on quality of life relative to cost. According to the NDIA, around 40% of NDIS participants have identified AT as a support need in their individual and tailored NDIS Participant Plans.

3D printing has the potential to support the AT and disability services marketplace and enable new service delivery models. For people with disability, this pilot study of Hack-a-Home has the potential to enhance how innovation in AT product, service and system development can increase their independence and economic and social participation.

The pilot study also has potential to benefit families/carers that provide over 55 million hours of support annually to people with disabilities through new ways of working.

For AT providers and disability services, the pilot study will provide an understanding of critical success factors needed to foster AT innovation and upkeep.

Stay tuned for the final report, video and iteration of Hack-a-Home!

Mel Fuller

 Ian's golf picker-upper!

Ian’s golf picker-upper!

Brodie’s Summary

Hack-a-Home was a rewarding and exciting program that I enjoyed being a part of. In my role as a CAD designer, I worked with customers at each home and their carers to design solutions for day to day problems that the customers ran into. I was blown away in many cases by the level of participation and the creativity of ideas everyone had to offer. This guided me in many of the designs I managed to create and print out for the customers.

A few of my favourite projects included Kay, who wanted a cup holder for her walker. With her help, we managed design a customised cup holder that bolted on using the holes that were unused for adjustment of the walker. Being able to be part of a completely customised design for a certain problem was very rewarding and I think Kay enjoyed having something that worked specifically for her.

Another project I found enjoyable was Marina’s toggle. Given the range of motion in Marina’s right hand, comfort and accuracy whilst controlling her motorised wheelchair was difficult for her at times. Through speaking with Marina, we created a toggle which was taller and a more effective shape to facilitate the knuckles she used to drive her wheelchair. Marina was very pleased and appreciative with the new design and seeing her drive around with the new toggle brought a big smile to my face.

Working and sharing time with each of the customers was not only educational but a great deal of fun. I felt very privileged to be so welcomed into their homes and being able to discuss and work on problems that they wanted solved.


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