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April 2014

Assistive Technology -- High School Engineering Design Project using the "Makey Makey"


High school students design appropriate Assistive Technology solutions for elementary students with physical and cognitive disabilities.


Ten high school students enrolled in a year-long Computer Science course taught by Joe Speier at the Asheville School , a college preparatory school located in West Asheville. These ten students participated in a special project-based Engineering Design class taught by Tom Heck during the month of May 2014.

Working in teams, the Asheville School students designed and and built prototypes of appropriate Assistive Technology solutions for exceptional students enrolled at Hall Fletcher Elementary School (HFE) located in Asheville, NC. The design solutions were intended to help students interact with computer programs (games) in new ways. We worked closely with Kelly Blount and Amy Floyd, the HFE teaching team, throughout the project. This project is endorsed by Dr. Gordon Grant, the principal at HFE.


Jason Webb developed a “DIY Assistive Technology project” outlined in detail HERE. Inspiration for this project came from Jason's work.

Lucas Steuber is a colleague of Jason Webb's, and like Jason, is also blazing a trail with DIY Assistive Technology. Lucas runs the Portland Language Lab and was very helpful throughout this project. 

The Assistive Technology prototypes we created utilized a versatile computer interface design platform called a Makey Makey which was developed at the MIT Media Lab. The Makey Makey is a $50 invention kit for the 21st century. It turns everyday objects into touchpads allowing for quick prototyping of creative Assistive Technology solutions. 

I was inspired by Purdue University's "EPICS" High School program (Engineering Projects in Community Service) which teaches human centered design and engineering by getting students out into the community to solve real problems for real people.

During this short course I introduced the students to Stanford University's Design School process which is outlined in this 44 page PDF.


April 1-30 -- I call a list of agencies who can help me connect with a group of students with physical disabilities. These agencies include: FIRST Community Resource Center, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Buncombe County School's Progressive Education Program (PEP), Asheville City Schools Exceptional Children's Program, Care Partners, Buncombe County Schools "Special Services", Mission Children's Hospital, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, Disability PartnersCarolina Pediatric Therapy, and others. I worked with Charlie Glazener, the media contact for the Asheville City Schools system to secure permission to take photos and video of the elementary students and I worked with Charlie to get the media to the May 15 event (ABC TV and local paper).

May 1, 2014 -- Class # 1 (90 min.) Asheville School students board a bus and travel to HFE to meet with the teachers and students. The goal for this trip was to build rapport and empathy (step #1 of the Stanford D-School process). 

May 2 -- Class # 2 (45 min.) Asheville School students are introduced to the Makey Makey.

May 8 -- Class # 3 (90 min.) Asheville School students select the game they intend to play and begin building prototype. 

May 12 -- Class # 4 (45 min.) Asheville School students refine designs and test each other's designs. Prepare for Class #5 (return to HFE). 

May 15 -- Class #5 (90 min.) Asheville School students travel to HFE by bus and meet with the students to test their prototypes (see video above). 

May 19 -- Class #6 (45 min.) Asheville School students debrief the experience. 


Jason Webb's "Instructable" on DIY Assistive Technology HERE

Another resource from Jason HERE

Overview of the MaKey MaKey for educators of students with diverse needs HERE

Lucas Steuber's Assistive Technology website HERE

DIY Ability website HERE

MaKey MaKey website HERE

MaKey MaKey Forums HERE

MaKey MaKey for Computer Access workshop (video) HERE  -- NOTE: A guest on this show is one of the developers of the Makey Makey!

Dr. Amy Hurst at the University of Maryland Baltimore is doing amazing work around DIY Assistive Technology.

Switch Accessible Games

Car (driving) games HERE

Hall Fletcher Elementary Games HERE

Learn how to download flash games HERE

RESEARCH: Evaluating Accessibility in Fabrication Tools for Children (click link below)

Download RESEARCH Evaluating Accessibility in Fabrication Tools for Children

DIY Pressure Plate Switches HERE 


The following is a list of computer games we were prepared to play with the HFE students. 

Hopper Beetle  Download Hopper_Beetle

Ultimate Baseball  Download Ultimate_baseball

Dance Revolution  Download Dance_revolution

Dance of the Robots  Download Dance_of_the_Robots

Fruit Basket  Fruit Basket Game

Piano for Makey Makey  Piano

Bongos  Bongos

Trebuchet Launch  Download Castle-clout

Photo Gallery

 View the photo gallery of this project HERE.



WLOS, the local ABC affiliate, sent a reporter and film team out to the event. The video report will soon be posted here.

Print Media

The Asheville School posted a great story with photos on their website HERE.


A brief mention of this project appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times. Click on the image below to enlarge.


WLOS TV, the local ABC news affiliate, did a story on this project.


Longer video showing students using the Assistive Technology devices:


more soon...

What are the hallmarks of good DESIGN?


What is good design?

Dr. Gary Hamel says great design evokes an almost visceral reaction because it is:

  1. Utterly unexpected

  2. Amazingly competent

  3. Aesthetically exquisite

  4. Conspicuously conscientious

 CLICK HERE to read Dr. Hamel's article in FORBES.


Design Thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results. Read the article in Fast Company Magazine HERE.


Stanford University's d-School has developed a process for Design Thinking. CLICK HERE to read the d-School's "Bootcamp Bootleg". 


Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, offers 3 steps to a more open, innovative mind. 

  • Be curious
  • Have empathy
  • Beginner's mind

CLICK HERE to read the article in Fast Company magazine.


Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, gives a fascinating TED Talk encouraging designers to think big!


Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO:  Why social innovators need design thinking


Don Norman is an academic in the field of cognitive science, design and usability engineering. His TED Talk on "The three ways that good design makes you happy" (below). 


Amos Winter is an MIT Engineer who asks "How do you build a wheelchair ready to blaze through mud and sand, all for under $200?". In his TED Talk below, Winter guides us through the mechanics of an all-terrain wheelchair that's cheap and easy to build -- for true accessibility -- and gives us some lessons he learned along the road.


Robohand -- When Richard Van As, a woodworker in South Africa, decided to make a set of mechanical fingers, it wasn't just for fun. He'd lost four of the fingers on his right hand in an unfortunate work accident. For a carpenter, a disabled hand is a big professional risk, so Richard decided on the day of the incident that he would use the tools available to him to remedy his situation. Watch the inspiring video below to hear how Richard's project, Robohand, is changing lives with patience, spirit, and a MakerBot Replicator 2.



The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Design. Much of what is fueling the best in design is the desire to make life easier and more enjoyable. Read the article from the March 2014 issue of Fast Company HERE.




Extreme By Design

Extreme By Design is the story of three Stanford University Design School students who take a course on designing very low-cost products that meet basic needs of the world's poorest people.

During the 6-month course, they travel to Bangladesh and Indonesia and race to design life-saving breathing devices, IV medicine infusion pumps, and fresh water storage systems. 



PBSLearningMedia (a curriculum portal for teachers) created a series of interactive videos designed to help students learn how to think and act like innovators. It is designed for 4th through 12th grade students, to be completed after watching the Extreme By Design documentary. 

Learning Episode 1 ("Being an Innovator") introduces students to the design thinking approach. Scenes from the documentary are used to illustrate concepts, and a protagonist acts as a guide, providing instruction and explanations to the students.





Asheville Makers Learn To Solder Workshop at the West Asheville Library

On March 20, 2014 Asheville Makers led a "Learn To Solder" event at the West Asheville Library.

It was the first free and open to the public learn how to solder event ever held in Asheville and it was a huge success.

We had students age 8 to 80 learning how to solder a blinking "robot badge"  found at the Maker Shed

Because of generous donations from area businesses, this event was free! Big thank you goes out to Efficiency Lab and On Haywood.

Thank you to all of our great soldering teachers. Without you this would not have been the great event it was. 

Avi Silverman and Tom Heck of Asheville Makers recently met with representatives of the Asheville City - Buncombe County Library System who are very excited about the Maker Movement. We'll be partnering to lead more free and open to the public events!