Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

It’s a very good place to start, as the song goes.   There is a first to everything- when something has not been done before, or a new idea is spawned.  It appears seemingly out of the blue, or is taken from a new experience or group dialogue.  MakerPalooza is a great example- a new event that had not been offered before at Pellissippi.  The ideas of Sarah Graham and Seth Giles, Thanh Duong and Brenda Hale, came from participating in a similar event, Hack Tennessee in Nashville.

Who and what is a Maker, you ask? If you are a crafter or a tinkerer, there is room for one and all.  The types of people who are makers are varied, from home crafters, those who love DIY (do-it-yourself) to electronics experts, woodworkers, welders and the like.  In 2005, Dale Dougherty launched Make magazine to serve a growing number of folks, as well as Maker Faire.   It has grown into a grassroots community across the world.

The influx of 3d printing and its applications for innovation also added increased access on a personal scale to a means of digital fabrication- similar to the transition to personal computers seen in the 1980’s.

I was first introduced to this idea a few years ago so when I saw that Pellissippi was going to be involved, I was excited and wanted to get involved.  The applications of 3d printing and technology innovations for creating accessible learning materials holds promise in opening learning to all.

It followed naturally to infuse the principles of Universal Design to MakerPalooza, from insuring that a sign language interpreter and transcriptionists were available during the panel presentation, to creating accessible versions of all the printed materials that were available by the Makers coming to demonstrate their crafts.   This was the first event in which Universal Design was seamlessly woven behind the scenes, an integral part of the planning from the beginning of the event and throughout the day.

Darrell Bowles, Contract Access Specialist in Disability Services, states “One of the hurdles that had to be overcome was the fact that I did not know anything about the presenters. While sighted individuals could identify the labels on the booth, I being blind do not have that option. Sarah Graham, Student Success Coach, came up with a wonderful idea. She did audio recordings of the bio information, and what the presenter was presenting. Although they were in google drive I was able to download them to my laptop, and store them in my drop box folder. With the drop box app on my phone, I was able to listen to the files as I was traveling along. This allowed me to see what I wished to see, without having to try and figure out where it was.”

How did that happen and what did it take to make this happen?  Sarah Graham says “Creating a solution for an accessibility accommodation request was a perfect opportunity to truly embrace one of the fundamental tenants of the Maker movement.  Working with Darrell and the Disability Services office at Pellissippi State was an enlightening and valuable experience not only for myself, but for all of the makers who participated in the event.  While discussing ways of providing access, the suggestion was made to incorporate the “guided tour” template used by museums since Darrell’s specific needs included an audio component (versus written)—fortunately, with the use of mobile technology acquired through a Fellowship program the school operates, I had easy access to the equipment and apps needed to record the necessary information about our makers and their projects.”

Graham goes on to say “As an organizer, it was beneficial for our event registration form to be comprehensive enough that maker biographies and project descriptions were already available and required little additional involvement of the makers themselves—although in the case of this year’s event, all of them were extremely helpful in providing copies of their written materials to be converted into accessible formats.  For the next MakerPalooza, I would encourage our makers to anticipate the need for accessibility accommodations well in advance of the event so that individual projects could be innovated by the makers themselves—it would serve to enhance the experience for everyone!”

The possibilities are endless.  NYU has an Accessible Making class.  3d printers are being used to create prosthetic limbs that can be shared with those in need globally through the Enabling the Future program at Johns Hopkins and the e-NABLE Prosthetic Hand Project. The Advanced Manufacturing Program at Pellissippi is creating accessible math materials.

It may be only the beginning, but it’s a great start.

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