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Volunteers, amateur inventors build everyday devices for the disabled

By Bill Graveland The Canadian Press   

Features Business Technology

CALGARY – For many Canadians with disabilities, it’s the little things that make day-to-day living a bit harder.

Kent Hehr, federal minister for persons with disabilities, knows how difficult things can be. He’s been in a wheelchair since he was 21.

Hehr watched with interest Friday as he attended a Lipsync buildathon in Calgary. About two dozen volunteers gathered to assemble mouth-controlled devices that allow users to move the cursor on a computer or mobile phone.


The event was put on by Makers Making Change, a non-profit initiative that helps the disabled live independent lives. Project manager Zee Kesler said once assembled, the Lipsyncs will be given to individuals who need them.

“Something like this Lipsync would be like $2,000 to $3,000 commercially and this version is only $200 to $300,” she said.

“A Lipsync could make a massive difference in their life where something just as simple as opening the door could seem like something we take for granted, but for somebody else they have to ask for help with it, so that’s a huge deal.”

The buildathons are held across the country. They attract many volunteers with virtually no experience who are taught how to put together the Lipsyncs and how to solder.

“We don’t know how to do it but we’re excited. It makes us feel good. We see it as a real opportunity to try something new,” said Marina Korostensky, who along with other Telus real estate employees, did it as a team building exercise.

“We were offered help and we were reassured that everything is fine, and if we break something it can be fixed.”

The Lipsyncs are not the only products Makers Making Change assembles.

Kesler said the group pairs engineers, software developers and general “tinkerers” with a person who has a disability to help design prototypes.

They’ve created a nail clipper, a key holder and a device that can hold a pen for people who have difficulty with fine motor skills.

Kesler said the designs can be found online and developed with the use of 3D printers at a fraction of the cost of commercially available products.

Hehr seemed more excited by smaller devices on display.

“When I signed my name to become a cabinet minister, they had to go like three times to put my pen in my hand and I dropped it three times. I should have actually had this. Then it’s not as awkward for everyone,” he said.

“It’s very cool stuff.”

Hehr said he knows how useful the devices could be.

“Key holders to open your door, an implement to write your name or even just a letter opener. Things like that people just assume they can do themselves, where people with disabilities need a little bit of help.”

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