This Is the Easiest Way to Build Accessibility Tech for Kids with Disabilities

Sophia Smith

Sophia is an editor at Make:. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

82 Articles

By Sophia Smith

Sophia is an editor at Make:. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

82 Articles

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MaKey MaKey, the alligator clip-able USB drive that controls computer input, has become somewhat synonymous with bizarre circuit building projects like turning a troupe of bananas into a working piano. Bizarre hilarity aside, MaKey MaKey has also become an incredibly useful accessibility tool for those with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Maker Tom Heck had been working in education for most of his adult life, but he initially felt unsure how to help a classroom of students with special needs. In the TED talk below, Heck gives a short overview of the current state of accessibility devices available to students with disabilities. In short they’re expensive, one-size-fits-all, and prone to breaking, all of which boils down to frustrated classrooms that have difficulty obtaining working replacements.

Heck decided to put the versatility of MaKey MaKey to use. Along with ten high school students, Heck helped develop assistive technology prototypes at the Asheville School in North Carolina. The prototypes were specifically designed to help Hall Fletcher Elementary School’s exceptional students interact with computer games and other programs in easier ways.

The high school students visited the elementary school to get a feel for what the students’ needs were, and then spent several weeks working on their solutions. They developed a variety of new accessibility devices which the elementary kids can use by tapping their hands, feet, and even jumping across a large piano á la Big. Anything with even the slightest conductivity works well as an input for MaKey MaKey. In the video below, you can see the kids using materials like pie tins and even play-doh to interact with what they see on the screen.

Since his TED talk on the project last year, Heck has become the VP of Education Initiatives for MaKey MaKey. “My hope is that by sharing this project, more Makers will reach out to people in their communities and design real solutions for real people experiencing real problems,” he says. What kinds of projects have you used MaKey MaKey for? Let us know in the comments below.