It's said that the first five years of a child's life are, developmentally, the most important. These are the years when children begin to develop their motor skills, personality, and outlook, and it's crucial that children be given every opportunity to meet their full potential.
Not all children are born with the advantages of their peers. Thankfully, advances in technology are helping disadvantaged children stand on equal footing with their classmates and friends. The following stories look at how that 3D-printing technology is helping children with disabilities during these crucial developmental years.
Field of Dreams
It's not easy for a sports fan to steal attention from seasoned athletes, but that's just what happened on August 17th when five-year-old Hailey Dawson—one the Orioles' biggest fans—threw the ceremonial First Pitch with her new 3D-printed arm.
Hailey has a condition known as Poland Syndrome. Her right arm stopped developing while she was still in the womb.
Hailey's parents did extensive research into prosthetics, but quickly found them to be expensive and unable to adapt to a child's growth. That's when Hailey's mother turned to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, whose engineering students were more than happy to help. Using a free online design, the students printed and assembled an arm for Hailey, adorned with the logo and colors of her favorite team. The entire process cost $20.
"[The 3D-printed hand] is operated by wrist movement," says Hailey's mother, Yong. When Hailey's wrist goes to a down motion, the fingers will grasp and when it goes in the up motion, the fingers release." Although Hailey is too young to play professionally, don't be surprised if one day she and her new arm are part of the Orioles' starting line-up!
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Just like Hailey, Isabella was born with an underdeveloped limb. Her parents also researched prosthetics only to find them financially prohibitive and developmentally insensitive. Isabella's case caught the attention of Stephen Davies, a fellow congenital amputee and member of Team UnLimbited.
Davies personally delivered Isabella's new arm. (He shot the above video, too, which briefly features his own 3D-printed left hand popping into frame.) The donation is part of a larger campaign by E-Nable to deliver prosthetic limbs to more than 1,000 children in need worldwide. If Isabella's reaction is any indication, they'll also be delivering countless smiles.
The Shape of Things to Come
As both of the preceding stories have shown, two of the most frequent obstacles for those
in need of prosthetics are the issues of cost and adaptability. As innovative as the new technologies may be, these two issues will often keep them out of reach of the people who need them most.
Joel Gibbard, a 25-year-old grad student born and raised in Great Britain as a congenital amputee, decided to design and build his own mechanical hand. He founded the company OpenBionics, which specializes in creating affordable, motorized 3D-printed limbs.
"We're using lower-cost motors than they have in high-end devices, so the overall strength is lower," says Gibbard. The average model produced by OpenBionics could cost around $5,000. That's considerably cheaper than industrial models, which cost as much as $95,000 apiece. With newly found support by Disney's TechStars Accelerator program, OpenBionics hopes to begin selling their models to the public some time next year.
Technology is defined not by its invention, but by its use. Children adapt to new technologies and surroundings more quickly than adults. Somewhere in between, the human gift for innovation combines with natural development to ensure equal opportunities for everybody involved.