The Next Frontier For 3-D Printing: Helping The Disabled (VIDEO)

A British nonprofit and several businesses are using 3-D printers to create quality products that help people live more independently.
People with disabilities are too often stuck buying expensive gadgets to improve their daily lives. Worse, those gadgets may be poorly designed and fabricated. For Enabled By Design, a nonprofit specializing in “good design [that] can support people to live as independently as possible,” 3-D printing is a game-changer. Instead of buying mass-produced products, people with disabilities can manufacture exactly what they need to suit their individual needs.

When Enabled By Design co-founder Denise Stephens was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, her daily activities changed dramatically. As her condition progressed and she found herself dealing with new challenges, she realized she had ambivalent feelings about assistive devices distributed by Britain’s National Health Service. Stephens describes the devices as “clinical” and says they made her apartment resemble a hospital room. As shown in the video below for the Catalyst Awards, Enabled By Design was founded to provide higher-quality assistive products that look good and which significantly improve quality of life.

“People with disabilities are often confined to using assistive equipment that is ugly and badly designed for their needs,” Stephens says. Wheelchairs, crutches, handrails, vehicles, cutlery–most things in life–are given no aesthetic value and are usually utilitarian. “3-D printing has a huge potential to disrupt–it means people with disabilities will have the power to revolutionize the products they use and to make them highly personalized.”

Stephens, speaking with Co.Design, emphasized the fact that many products designed for disabled users are not properly quality tested and also have usability challenges. She mentioned, for instance, bath lifts whose poor battery life would strand disabled users in their bathtub. By encouraging customers with handicaps to take on design challenges, she believes better products can be created.

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