The volunteer e-NABLE movement was founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, who also co-founded the Enable Community Foundation (ECF) to support a global network of volunteers using 3D printers to design, fabricate, and disseminate free, prosthetic-like hand and arm devices. These efforts focused on a particularly under-served community: the one in 2,000 children born with upper-limb abnormalities—a disability touching nearly every community across ethnic, religious, and class lines. ECF’s vision was to harness a combination of 3D technologies, internet collaboration, mass customization, distributed manufacturing, and volunteerism to reimagine the way upper-limb prosthetics are produced and distributed, making prohibitively expensive prosthetics available to all. Schull’s term as a Prize awardee concluded in 2016, when he left ECF to continue his work with e-NABLE and to conduct research on structuring online communities for the benefit of social movements. The J.M. Kaplan Fund has supported that research through non-Prize grant funds, while making a separate grant to ECF (since renamed LimbForge) to advance its promising vision. Subsequently, in 2018, LimbForge merged with the Victoria Hand Project, which provides innovative technology and engineering expertise to expand prosthetic rehabilitation options for the estimated 30 million people living with limb loss in the developing world. In part using tools pioneered by LimbForge, Victoria will continue to grow its network of prosthetists around the world who provide hundreds of 3D-printed limbs every year to those who need them most.
People with upper-limb differences have always been surrounded by would-be caregivers with good ideas and good intentions, but inadequate means. But a historic transition is underway: there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of brilliant, digitally savvy humanitarians, empowered by 3D printers, internet collaboration technologies, and emerging practices in agile and open-source methodologies, who are ready, willing, and able to bring good ideas into the physical world quickly, cheaply, and effectively.
We seek to match candidate recipients to volunteers who customize, print, and assemble body-powered mechanical hands and arms. The children receiving the devices are often engaged as clients who direct the design so it meets functional goals and functions as a form of self-expression. Often printed in bright colors with super-hero motifs, these devices let children grip and hold objects, and take pride in their new “superpowers.” Parents report striking boosts in self-confidence and social status among peers.
I saw a YouTube video about a South African carpenter who, after losing fingers in a shop accident, partnered with a Washington State puppet maker to produce a simple 3D-printable partial mechanical hand device, and put it online for free after realizing it could also help children born with upper-limb differences. I quickly created an online Google Maps mashup and added a comment to the YouTube video: “If you have a printer and want to help, put yourself on this map. If you need a hand, put yourself on this map.”
I’ve been inspired by Wikipedia, Muhammad Yunus, and the Open Source Software Movement, among others.
A volunteer named Drew Murray made a hand for an Englishman named Steven Davies. Within weeks he had become a fabricator of hands and arms (which are tricky!) for children in England. I’m hoping some of those children will become solution-providers for others.
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