Recently I came across a design competition being run by Pinshape.com and Matterhackers.com . Now if you havn't heard of these sites, you probably aren't in the 3D printing world which is where I got my start. Now the project is fairly straight forward; design a 3D printable file that can help educate the blind or assist them in their day to day routines.
Now I know very little about the problems these folks face, which is why I wanted to do a little research. Come to find out, there is a technique used to help them move around without a cane called flash sonar. It was developed by a man named Daniel Kish and is effectively a form of echolocation. When he was young He would climb trees and make clicks with his mouth that would help him gauge his height off the ground. I made some clickers to help kids learn his technique but felt like I was coming up short on good ideas. Its a very difficult exercise to thenk about how to teach someone or make something for someone who fundamentally cannot empathize with a visual concept. Feeling lost I decided to make a few calls.
I got in touch with WCBVI, which is a school for the blind not even 2 hours away from my apartment, and asked them what I could make that would be useful to them. Their answer was complex but what they asked me to do was actually pretty bad ass.
They asked me to come down to the school and speak to them about 3D printing as a professional in the field, even asked for help with a project their kids where doing to make a 3D map of constellations of the northern hemisphere. They also mentioned that their 3D printing lab was not well optimized for their kids. Honestly I was surprised they had a lab at all much less had a class on how to use this tech. Seein as the do have a lab there I asked them a little about what machines where there. They told me they had a Taz 5 and a Makerbot gen 2 neither of which are particularly notorious for having good reliable high definition results. Those are the kinds of results that make machines like that feasible in their education environment.
After I got off the phone, I felt like this was what I really wanted to do from the start with the design challenge. Make the world that you and I have accessible to these kids. Some calls where made to a few printing companies I had dealings with in the past and, fingers crossed, we may having something way better to give these kids than just a lecture or a singular design.
We'll know in a couple of weeks, but the importance of this is pretty simple. I do pretty much nothing but tactical stuff. It's what I know, what I do. The willingness to think outside my wheelhouse to solve a problem I had never even considered made a difference. This is why it's so important to push yourself and find new roads--make new things. When you take a leap of faith and just try to do something right, You have no idea how far you can go with that or where it'll take you. This is why its a good idea to think outside your wheelhouse.