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SELFMADE presents potential of 3D printing for people with disabilities

3D printers are using liquefied plastic to fabricate individual products – from few centimetres high vases to complete cars. This new technology offers tremendous application possibilities which are explored by researchers of TU Dortmund University, Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences and Dr Bastian Pelka, social research centre, in hindsight of the use by people with disabilities.

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“People with disabilities are often struggling with standard products from industrial fabrication”, explains Dr Pelka. They were often dependent on individually manufactured products and appliances. However these were expensive and often the takeover of the costs would take very long. 3D print can establish a new “market-in-between”: self-printed goods are more individual than an industrially fabricated products, but less expensive than a conventional appliance. This “market-in-between” the project SELFMADE strives to explore, together with clients of the sheltered workshop for people with disabilities, run by the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) Dortmund. The clients will define, choose and print the products by themselves.

On the 15th of May, project coordinator Prof Dr Ingo Bosse from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences and Dr Bastian Pelka invited more than 40 experts from politics, economy, science and civil society to a stakeholder workshop in the social research centre with the leading questions: Where lies the potential of this new technology? Which approaches are promising and which products are applicable to be printed and used?

In his presentation providing the clients’ point of view, Thorsten Speckmann, spokesman of the sheltered workshop, presented the project’s first product: A cupholder which enables people with limited hand motility to better use cups and little bottles. The red appliance was also equipped with chips for voice control glued upon it: If touched with a reading pen, the order is spoken, e.g. “I would like my coffee with milk and sugar”. This appliance from the 3D printer costs around € 2,50 for material and energy expenses; the printing takes around six hours.

In June the project will establish an open maker space in the AWO office for assisted communication near Dortmund’s main station to create a place to design and print individual appliances in a self-paced manner.