When prosthetics or adaptive mobility equipment are inaccessible to individuals with a lower-limb amputation, quality of life is impacted.
Around the globe, particularly in developing nations, limited resources and training in prosthetic limb production exacerbate this problem and can lead to barriers and decreased opportunities for people with disabilities.
Three Dal students — Alicia Roy (Biology major, 4th year), Danielle Skuy (Accounting major and French minor, 4th year) and Robyn Follett (Psychology and Creative Writing double major, 2nd year) — collaborated and formed a team recently to brainstorm ways to address this global concern. They drew inspiration from Nia Technologies, a well-established non-profit social enterprise based out of University of Toronto with a similar mission, and have been in consultation with them for advice and guidance.
Countless hours of hashing out details and researching were involved in the planning stages for the trio, who went on to win the Dal’s World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC) competition earlier this month with their project Total Dimension Prosthetics.
“Basically, our idea is to recruit women who are educated as technicians or prosthetists in developing countries and [enable] them to start businesses making 3D-printed prosthetics out of recycled plastics,” says Follett.
The team now moves on to the International World's Challenge Challenge competition hosted by Western University in London, Ont. in May, where they'll compete against 10 teams from five countries for funding to advance their project.
Unlocking all dimensions
When asked how the group name Total Dimension Prosthetics came to be, Skuy says, “I started thinking about how a prosthetic lower limb (i.e., leg) can totally change someone’s life. With a limb, someone can walk to school, to friends’ houses, to work and to go shopping. … So Total Dimension Prosthetics is about allowing someone with a lower limb amputation to unlock all dimensions of themselves.”
Designed to address a social issue linked to gender, disability and economic inequality, the project focuses on a long-term sustainable solution rather than a quick temporary fix.
“A big focus of our project was…we wanted to empower people and particularly women to be able to start their own sustainable ways to participate in and help their communities,” Roy says.
The team hopes to base their project initiatives in Uganda, South Africa and India — countries where there are large populations of educated women and a high demand for prosthetics. One of the goals is to increase employment and leadership opportunities for women living in these countries and, by using recycled plastic and 3D-printing methods, adding another benefit of increased efficiency of manufacturing.
By using recycled plastic in 3D-printers, the opportunity opens up for technicians to create 3D-prosthetic limbs at a lower cost, with the additional benefit of being environmentally friendly, and this is especially important in countries where resources are limited.
"Normal prosthetics cost thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars, but ours are going to cost $400 or less, which means they are that much more accessible," says Roy.
Similar to the semi-final and final rounds of Dal’s competition, the trio will have five to seven minutes at the upcoming international competition to present the global sustainability goals they are addressing as well as introduce the purpose and logistics behind their project idea.
A question period will follow team presentations and a grand prize of $30,000 awarded to the winning team to put their plan into action. The second-place finishers will take home $15,000.
To prepare for the upcoming competition, Roy, Skuy and Follett are meeting regularly with Dr. Jenny Baechler, Associate Director of Dal’s MBA program, who is providing advice, coaching and overall support.
Reflecting on her experience throughout the competition so far, Follett describes it as “surreal.”
“It was just a great experience to meet the other people who were a part of the competition because they had amazing ideas and they're just amazing people who are all trying to work towards the same goals of making the world a better place.”
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