Flint, MI—Students at the University of Michigan-Flint are working to create adaptive tools for people living with disabilities — including incorporating 3D printing technology to develop those tools in the future.

For the winter semester, UM-Flint’s second-year doctoral students studying occupational therapy design, adaptive technologies for people with disabilities in the innovations and technology class.

Looking ahead, Donna Case, assistant professor of occupational therapy at UM-Flint, is hoping that 3D printing will be used for both instructional purposes in class and to help occupational therapists create products for their clients. 

“We have a 3D printer that we are working on getting up and running,” Case said. “Our hope is that we will be able to be a resource for people in the community, for therapists in the state.” 

3D printing technology, Case noted, could help expand the current repertoire of assistive products designed by students, products like the adaptive key holder, and expedite the development process. 

Commercially available adaptive equipment can be expensive for individuals, but having the capability to develop products in-house at UM-Flint can help reduce the costs, Case explained.

Currently, that’s what students in the innovations and technology class are learning to create with low-cost supplies. 

“What we’re trying to do for our students is to open their eyes and get them thinking, ‘How can I use everyday supplies, things that are readily available, in a different way for somebody with a disability who needs it?,’” Case said. 

Students have made non-skid plates, adapted card holders, as well as weighted toothbrushes and utensils that will be donated to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation. When it comes to the weighted utensils, for instance, they’re partly made of a regular piece of silverware and BBs that add weight to the utensil. 

Students have also designed adapted toys this semester for children with physical disabilities in the Genesee Intermediate School District’s early intervention program. 

Nicholette Baker, a UM-Flint student pursuing a doctorate degree in occupational therapy, said designing and repurposing items in the lab for people with disabilities is a fulfilling process. 

“We’re learning how to do everything and it’s really rewarding for us,” Baker said.

The lessons she has learned from the trial and error process of design will help prepare her for her 3D printing project before graduating next year and help develop a manual with step-by-step instructions to create various adaptive equipment.

Ultimately, Case hopes that 3D printing at UM-Flint will serve as a “clearing house,” an avenue to develop and distribute adaptive technologies for clinicians who may not have access to a 3D printer. 

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...