Near-blind boy gets dream skateboard in Tikkun Olam challenge

Nonprofit aims to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and those who have the tech skills to help them

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

Tikkun Olam Maker's team who worked with Ben (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam Maker's team who worked with Ben (Courtesy)

Eleven-year-old Ben Zelinger was diagnosed with an illness that caused him to lose much of his eyesight nearly a year ago. Since then, one of his biggest dreams has been to ride a skateboard with his friends.

On Tuesday night that dream came close to becoming true, as a group of developers and engineers, working within the Tikun Olam Makers (TOM) project, continued to work intensively to create a special helmet connected to sensors and a camera that would enable him to ride his board.

The helmet unfortunately wasn’t ready on time for TOM’s presentation evening, as the team had completed the design but was still testing it for safety. But Ben got to ride briefly on an adapted skateboard that had a wider platform and wheels to make it more stable, and was grateful in anticipation of what he’d be getting soon.

“Really thank you so much,” he said with a huge smile on his face, after the team completed its presentation, showcasing each stage of the design process of the helmet.

Ben’s helmet was just one of the projects developed by designers, developers and engineers who came together on Tuesday to showcase products they developed to help people with disabilities as part of projects initiated by TOM.

Tikkun Olam Makers 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.

TOM, which sponsors maker events in Israel and the US, is dedicated to developing technology to help others in need. Tikkun olam is the Hebrew term for “making the world a better place” and is part of the Reut Group, the Tel Aviv-based nonprofit think tank that started the initiative.

The movement works in a number of ways: through so-called “make-a-thons,” 72-hour events organized by local communities to bring all the players together to create accessible and affordable solutions for everyday challenges. In the short timeframe of the make-a-thon, the so-called “need knowers”, or the people who understand the needs of people with disabilities, come together with the makers to develop open-source product solutions together.

The “need knowers” identify and spell out the challenges while the “maker community” is invited to create a prototype. The product files are then uploaded to an open platform for the use of others around the world.

Following the make-a-thons, some of the groups are invited to set up developer groups and continue developing the solutions. The event on Tuesday was the fruit of the first such group set up by Tikkun Olam in Israel.

The Israeli developer teams met every Wednesday night for the past four months to develop the new products that were presented during the presentation event.

Tikkun Olam's project for Vital Zinger (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam’s project for wheelchair dander Vital Zinger (Courtesy)

Other projects, besides Ben’s skateboard, included helping Vital Zinger, a 29-year-old award-winning wheelchair dancer, make sure other drivers give her enough space on the side of her car so she can use the lift on her car to get in an out.

In order to get in and out of her car, Zinger, like many wheelchair users, needs at least 2.5 meters of space on the side. Other drivers, who are not aware of the problem and don’t always notice the sign she puts on her window, tend to park too close. The Tikkun Olam team developed a sensor that signals to other drivers when they park too close.

Other teams developed prostatic legs for a 10-month-old puppy named Nim and helped 30-year old Shoval Cohen, who was born with cerebral palsy, balance his food tray on his wheelchair by creating a tray holder that connects to his wheelchair, enabling him to hold the tray while moving to a table to eat.

Tikkun Olam's project for Shoval Cohen (Courtesy)
Tikkun Olam’s food tray project for Shoval Cohen (Courtesy)

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