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Inventors devise wheelchair umbrella in Tikkun Olam event

‘Makeathon’ at Technion in Haifa gathers 160 global innovators to address the everyday challenges of the disabled

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Tikkun Olam Makers teams create a hatchback canopy umbrella for the wheelchair of Drew McPherson (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam Makers teams create a hatchback canopy umbrella for the wheelchair of Drew McPherson (Courtesy)

Thirty-year-old Drew McPherson, a senior mechanical engineering student at Berkeley, flew 7,447 miles to participate in a 72-hour Makeathon, a marathon of making things, at Israel’s Technion in Haifa last week.

The Makeathon, called TOM: Israel 2017, which organizer Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) said was “the largest in world history” and the first international one, brought together over 160 so-called Makers — engineers, designers, innovators and problem solvers — from the United States, Canada, England, China, India, Sri Lanka and Israel, to work together with 20 people with disabilities to develop technological solutions for their everyday challenges.

TOM is a global movement that aims to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and people who have the technical and development abilities to help them overcome those challenges.

The movement, which sponsors maker events around the world, is dedicated to developing technology to help those in need. Tikkun olam is the Hebrew term for “making the world a better place” and is part of the Reut Group, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit think tank that started the initiative with the support of the Schusterman Family Foundation.

Tikkun Olam Makers teams crate crafting tools to help those with partial hand parlysis work better at school (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam Makers teams crate crafting tools to help those with partial hand paralysis work better at school (Courtesy)

McPherson was paralyzed 10 years ago in a diving accident and uses a wheelchair to get around. He’s mostly fine, but rain dampens both his wheelchair and his mood, because it’s hard for him to hold an umbrella.

So, the team of TOM makers came up with a solution for what they dubbed the “winter wheelchair challenge”: they designed a hatchback canopy umbrella that fits onto the chair and can be raised or lowered with the press of a button.

“The winter wheelchair challenge is an excellent example of a product that should already exist,” said Michal Kabatznik, Creator of Global Opportunity at TOM. “There are dozens of different kinds of canopies on baby carriages and yet no system at all for people in wheelchairs to protect themselves from the elements. The field of assistive technology has not seen enough innovation.”

Tikkun Olam Makers teams crate a way to dry wheelchair wheels on rainy days so as not to bring mud into the house (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam Makers teams create a way to dry wheelchair wheels on rainy days so as not to bring mud into the house (Courtesy)

The winter solution was just one of the many challenges tackled by the makers: they provided a 10-year old boy who has a partial paralysis of one hand with tools to help him work better at school, like a magnet to keep a ruler steady and a keychain attached to his marker bag that helps him easily remove marker caps; they created a conveyor belt coffee maker to help people with hand tremors make a cup of coffee without spilling it; they made a portable toilet seat for children who need additional support, a device that allows children to hold their PlayStation with one hand, and wheelchair wheel cleaners.

“With 1.1 billion people living with disabilities, there is an astronomical number of neglected challenges hindering independence and inclusion,” said Arnon Zamir, founding director of TOM. “The strength of TOM is the powerful connection of dedicated community mobilized and ready to develop solutions for everyday challenges. We want to invite you to look around your communities, and prepare yourself to help someone in need.”

TOM: Israel 2017 took place in a specially designed workspace at the Technion in Haifa, using advanced technology such as 3D printers and laser-cutting machines. The solutions developed addressed a full range of challenges spanning from transportation to adapting communication devices. Each of the 17 challenges involved a Need-Knower (a person with a disability or deep understanding of the challenge) and a team of Makers (designers, developers, engineers) working together.

TOM: Israel 2017 is supported by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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