Ed. Note: Boing Boing's current guestblogger Clay Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. He teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where he works on the overlap of social and technological networks.
The Adaptive Design Association is an NYC non-profit that "works to ensure that children with disabilities get the customized equipment they need to participate fully in home, school, and community life." Lofty goal, but pricey, no? After all, regular equipment for disabilities is already expensive; how can customized equipment be in the reach of anyone but the rich? By constructing it out of cardboard.
The beauty of the Adaptive Design folks is that cardboard engineering lets them create work that is custom, playful, and cheap, and improves the quality of social life and autonomy, rather than just defending against medical harm. Pictured above is a before and after picture of a chair made for a child who can't sit on her own; she was in 3rd grade and it was the first time she could join her classmates in the cafeteria and sit properly.
Below is Hannah; Adaptive Design has created over two dozen pieces of equipment for her over a few years, because rapid prototyping with cardboard lets them move from a design regime of one-size-fits-all to one-size-fits-one, even for growing kids. And of course all of this is R&D for patterns that can be further adapted for other children.
They run training and workshops to help others adopt this kind of form-fit/rapid design/personal need approach to adaptive technology. They're also operating well outside the traditional reimbursement economy of the health care system, so they live on grants and donations--they're listed on JustGive.org, and run the whole thing on just $42K in administrative expenses a year.
Says my ITP colleague Marianne Petit, who first showed me this stuff "I know these items are so intensely low tech that you can't believe they don't exist or no one has created them, but, they don't exist. And in the case of most of the kids they work with, their needs are so completely individual there is no way for something to be pre-made - hence the fantastic-ness of working with cardboard."