Friday, April 14, 2017

My Engineering Feat #ALS #dtk12chat

My mother could no longer grab a fork, spoon, or knife.  That does not seem like a big deal, but it is huge when it is a list of things that you cannot do any more.  She had ALS and was struggling to open and close her hands.  I sat and talked with her on one of my Wednesday night visits.  When somebody is that amazing, you know how to listen or figure it out quickly.  As I listened, I could here how frustrated she was as she struggled to eat her food, though that was not the main point of the conversation.  Thus framed my design challenge.  How might I create something, so that my mom could hold a utensil and feed herself?

I could not put my finger on it, but I could not forget this problem for a few days.  I woke up on Saturday and went immediately to the local hardware store.  I had it.  She could not grab with her fingers, but her thumb worked.  I bought a piece of aluminum and some rubber coating and brought it back to my house (no tools necessary, I already had them all).  Here is what I made.

Here is how it works.  Understand that her hand is smaller than mine, so the black part goes on the palm, use your thumb to hold down the utensil, and the utensil can be used without making a fist.  I also made her a cup holder so she could hold her cups too.

There is a curved opening in the back where the top of a utensil handle goes.  It is nearly closed to hold that part down.  The front is open, but has two sides to keep the front of the utensil from sliding off the side.

Mothers are so special that they will use it when you are around to make you feel special.  What I later found out, it that she used it daily until she was no longer able to lift her arms.

Why do I share this?

I have never been more proud of something I have created.  Not that it is an engineering masterpiece or that it was difficult to make, but that it was perfect for what she needed.

When I talk about teaching through engineering or how I believe that design thinking can change the face of education in our schools, it is not just talk.  I refuse to sell something that I don't buy into myself.

I designed this with empathy.

  • I listened to my mother.  
  • Found a problem to solve
  • I came up with 1000's of possible solutions 
  • I came up with one worth trying.  It took me hours to make a bent piece of aluminum because I failed many times.  
  • I tested it 
and I gave it away.

I built this for her and she used it.  It solved a huge problem for her.  After she passed away earlier this month I asked my step-father if I could have it.  He gave it to me and told me how much it helped and how she used it, even when I was not around.

I know this was not about education, specifically, but I know there are many who are trying to figure out this design thinking process.  Hopefully this helps out.