DIY solutions for people with disabilities

A look at assistive technologies
Bill Rickard and his banjosThis week I came across this fascinating mini-documentary about one-armed banjo builder Bill Rickets. Bill has invented all kinds of machines that make it possible for him to fabricate every single part of his banjos, right down to the nuts and bolts. His goal of making instruments that will be treasured 100 years from now is really inspiring.

It got me thinking about assistive technology and how the DIY approach can result in ingenious solutions to difficult problems. Take for instance this motorised kayak for quadriplegics.
The two pontoons provide stability and each house a small electric motor. The motors are controlled by a ‘sip and puff’ mechanism: a straw in the operator’s mouth is sipped or puffed to alter the speed and direction of the craft.

The sip and puff mechanism is an example of how a non-standard human-machine interface can make technology accessible to people without a great deal of dexterity. Montana engineer Ken Yankelevitz makes use of all kinds of these non-standard interfaces to create video-game controllers for quadriplegics. This PlayStation controller features sip/puff tubes, lip-activated micro-switches, toggle switches, and a tongue-controlled joystick:

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