ATU363 – Assistive Technology Makers’ Fair with Dr. Therese Willkomm |


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Therese Willkomm – Assistive Technology Makers’ Fair |
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——-transcript follows ——




  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Hi, this is Therese Willkomm, I am the director of New Hampshire Statewide Assistive Technology Program, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

WADE WINGLER:  Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 363 of assistive technology update.  It’s scheduled to be released on May 11, 2018.

Today I am so excited to have a very fascinating conversation with Dr. Therese Willkomm who is a good friend of mine and the director of the New Hampshire assistive technology project.  You might’ve heard of her as the MacGyver of assistive technology.  The thing that she is very focused on right now are assistive technology maker fairs.  They have the first national one coming up here soon and we are going to spend the bulk of our interview today talking about this exciting event that is happening in Concord, New Hampshire, in September.

We hope will check out our website at  give us a call on our listener line.  The number is 317-721-7124.  We also keep an eye on twitter.  You can find us there at INDATA Project.



[1:31] K-12 classroom technology training



One of the things we do here at the INDATA Project as the federally funded Assistive Technology Act project for the state of Indiana is training.  We like to teach people about assistive technology and accessibility and all kinds of stuff.  We are super excited that this summer we are going to do something new and interesting.  We are going to have a two day, full day training in June.  It is focus on K-12 classroom technology, and some of those high incident disabilities that we see in the educational environment.  On June 14, we are going to have a full day training on universal design for learning.  It’s going to run all day long.  It will be held here at our Indianapolis location but also streamed live on our zoom channel so that you can see it if you can’t make it here.  That day one.  Day to is June 15.  It is going to be assistive technology for students with dyslexia.  It is going to include some dyslexia simulations and other apps and assistive technology focusing on dyslexia.  Next week’s interview is cool because we are going to spend some time with Daniel McNulty who is the director of the PATINS project and is critically involved in helping with our UDL, Universal design for learning, training coming up on June 14.  The interview will give you details about how to sign up, but we wanted to give you the save the date, June 14 and 15 here in 2018.  We are going to do two full days of training.  It’s free.  We hope you’ll join us.  You can learn more at



[2:52] Interview with Dr. Therese Willkomm



If you’ve been in the world of assistive technology for more than about a minute, you’ve probably heard of Dr. Therese Willkomm, also known as the MacGyver of assistive technology.  She was actually a pretty strong influence on my interest in assistive technology when she taught me how to make a bunch of cool stuff out of a bunch of things from a suitcase.  If you been in one of her sessions, you probably had one of those experiences.  I came out energized, educated, and excited about assistive technology.

In her day job, she is the director of the New Hampshire assistive technology act project.  If you don’t know, that is the sister project to the INDATA Project here in central Indiana.  Enough of me in my rambling. Dr. Willkomm, Therese, how are you?


WADE WINGLER:  We are so excited to have you on the show today.  We’ve had you on before, and you and I have done a lot of things and projects in the past. Today, we have a new topic, right?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Yes. The assistive technology maker fair coming up.

WADE WINGLER:  Yeah.  Let’s talk about that.  I haven’t heard of this being done before in the field of assistive technology.  Is this the first one?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Yes, in the sense of being a national assistive technology makers fair just dedicated to making assistive technology solutions. The whole makers movement started with California and New York having these amazing makers fairs that brought people from all over the world who make all sorts of gadgets, gizmos, crafts, inventions, 3-D printing, etc.  And then several years ago we were invited to these mini maker fairs to have an exhibit.  They were really successful.  At the mini maker fairs in Dover, New Hampshire, we started creating these assistive technology solutions booths where people would stop by, and they would make a particular device to take with them, or they would have a particular challenge needing a solution to be created very quickly on the spot.  That’s how we got started.  It was really quite successful.  Everybody was excited and happy that they could take home whatever they made and help a person with a disability. We also engage students who got involved in creating various solutions.

Then we went on, and because of the success of the program, to events [Inaudible] Assistive Technology Summit that took place in Washington DC.  It was the White House Summit on Technology and Disability.  There I was able to talk about all the kinds of assistive technology we were making with plastic.  Then this past year, we got a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reave foundation.  We call it the I create for paralysis, where we had these workshops, people were making 10 different assistive technology devices to take home with them to give to individuals with disabilities.  That was really successful.

Then at ATIA, that the first ever big makers event.  It was on the last day, and it was awesome, lots of great energy, lots of booths.  People were making various devices.  They were adapting toys, making iPad holders, etc.  ATIA was really the first to have a focus on assistive technology makers event at the conference.  However, we started planning this AT makers fair about a year ago.  We have a bunch of the volunteers who were working together and making this event happen on 29 September in Concord, New Hampshire.

We are excited because — when you look at the national makers fair, what happens is people go from booth to booth, and they look at what is being made.  The makers movement, there are makers spaces all over the country, schools have makers spaces now where students can make various items.  But this whole thing about just making assistive technology makes it unique, and the fact that at this makers affair, we will have what’s called a make café.  The make café is an assortment of booths where people go from booth to booth, and all the different projects are designed to be fabricated in five minutes or less.  Right now we have worked studies students putting together these make kits, things that people can make.  We have a multi-use universal cuff for people with grasping impairments that can be used in 13 different ways to support somebody anywhere from typing on a computer, interacting with a communication device, feeding, playing musical instruments, painting, drawing, anything related to grasping and holding and carrying.  Another booth will be on making a portable, collapsible, multi-use iPad stand and holder.  We had contacted Velcro USA to be a sponsor to have a booth at this event, highlighting their five unique materials that we’ve been using to create over 150 different solutions.  That we have someone coming from Arizona.  The Arizona AT program is sending people who will be adapting toys. We’ve made a whole bunch of switch kits, so everybody will be able to get a switch kit for adapting a toy in five minutes or less.  That’s going to be a pretty cool booth.

We are excited about makers making change from Canada.  They are coming down.  They are going to have an exhibit a modular hose with lack line the lack line you can do a ton of things with.  It’s going to be a blast.  And we are having a contest, and inventor contest.  We are encouraging people who have unique inventions to highlight what they have, what they want to demonstrate.  At the end of the day, we will be giving out awards for assistive technology devices that people have invented.

It’s going to be a blast.

WADE WINGLER:  There is a whole lot going on.  I’m excited just hearing about it.  You’ve covered some of these things, but let’s run down through the questions real quick to make sure we have them all.  When is the event going to happen?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: The event is going to be September 29. It’s going to be in Concord, New Hampshire, at the Groppone Center.  The website to click on to register or learn more about the event — and also we have a call for presenters right now.  We are looking for presenters who want to do a workshop want to have a booth in the make café, or just want to have exhibitor space.  The website is called It’s going to be from 8 AM to 5 PM.

WADE WINGLER:  All day long?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Yes. The one excellent.  The website have is  I’ll pop that in the show notes so that people can have that in a written format where they can click on that or pop it into their web browser.
  2. THERESE WILLKOMM: Going to this event, I also wanted to say that we’ve been approved to provide ATP CEU’s. We are now a RESNA approved ATP CEU provider. Those will be provided for people who attend that event.  That’s kind of cool.  Also, New Hampshire AOTA is helping to also promote the event as an opportunity for people to get CEU’s.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent.  Those are important.  We are always open for opportunities to get those CEU’s because you have to keep on top of them.  If somebody is considering attending or submitting a proposal in the call for papers, who is that? Who should attend, and we should be presenting?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Who should attend? Both makers and users of makers devices. Anyone and everyone interested in, one, learning how to make assistive technology; individuals who are making assistive technology solutions who want to share different tips, tricks; consumers who have particular challenges and need help problem-solving.  That’s what’s cool about this spontaneous makers movement. You get a lot of like-minded people together, and you throw out a particular challenge, and people just dive in, fabricating different things on the spot.  That whole movement of MacGyver and making it in five minutes or less, using ordinary materials, is something that I think is what’s really awesome about this event.

WADE WINGLER:  I was thinking about that.  I haven’t been to a makers fair or intimately involved in the makers movement, but is assistive technology a natural fit for that scene? It seems to be a natural, right?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Yes. It’s really interesting.  When the makers space a started popping up, I thought this is really cool, there’s a space that I can go to.  You can pay membership fee.  First I was looking at key guard saying, wow, they’ve got the drill presses.  If I need to make a key guard to go over communication devices, I can go over to this maker space and drill the holes.  The same thing with 3-D printing.  They have 3-D printers, I could design something, take it over there and print it.  Here was the issue.  Time and money.  Time was I would have to load up my car with materials, drive to the maker space, unload it, though at a time when the maker space is available.  Yes, I could use their tools.  I found something else.  A lot of these middle schools and high schools have 3-D printers.  They are looking for something to print, something to give their students some experience with.  I thought it takes 45 minutes to print out something about the size of a silver dollar.  I don’t have time to sit around waiting for something to print out.  Using our students in the middle schools and libraries are now having 30 printers, I thought that makes a lot more sense.

The other thing I discovered was, as you know, 80 percent of all these assistive technology devices that I’ve invented and fabricated are built using no power tools, no clue, using just specialty tapes, plastics, multiuse kinds of materials.  I discovered that when you need to make something for someone, you need to make it now.  That’s one of the challenges about maker spaces and disabilities.  However, there are some electronics, some things that take longer than five minutes.  I think a maker space is appropriate.  I talk about my basement, my dining room table, my garage, my office is all a maker space.  Maker spaces are around us.  You know those traits that you get at staples that fold up?


  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: You’d be surprised all of the stuff you can throw in those crates, rolled them, throw them into the trunk of your car, and travel on-site. That was the other thing we discovered.  There was a school, they had eight kids with significant disabilities that needed an assortment of AT.  We took it out of the car, rolled into the school cafeteria, and we just went wild.  We started building and inventing and fabricating a whole bunch of solutions.  By the end of the day, we made 30 different solutions.  It’s kind of like a portable maker space.  A maker space can be just about anything.  It doesn’t have to be your traditional places you have to go to the has a table saw, a drill press, a 3-D printer.  I want you to think about maker movement and maker spaces being much more broad.

WADE WINGLER:  That makes a ton of sense.  You are starting to help me formulate in my mind what this is like.  I have to say, when I first heard about this, I thought this is an AT conference.  But it’s clearly not.  I think a lot of the people in my audience have been to an AT conference.  My question behind the question is why is this important? I guess my question in front of the question is what makes this kind of event different than a traditional closing the gap or ATIA or RESNA or one of those conferences?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Because I really think that this conference is more like a make-a-thon, hack-a-thon. I think a make-a-thon or build-a-thon is about getting your hands dirty, about jumping in and just building stuff. The way we are designing it is a lot of the materials are all precut, pre-scored, prepackaged to make things really quite fast, to make multiuse devices.  In a traditional conference, you go in and sit in a chair, listen to people talk, and you go to and exhibit hall and walk up and down the exhibit hall and learn about different vendors.  You learn about materials.  This is different.  This is a deep dive.  This is where you jump in and get your hands dirty and just start building.  What we have for those people who don’t want to do any building, they can watch, go to the booths, sit and listen to the presentations.  Not everything is building.  What’s really cool about this is we’ve designed it so that it’s 45 minutes on, a half hour off, 45 minutes on, half our off. What that is designed for his people can run into the maker’s Café or the exhibit hall, see the exhibit, or they can say, wow, I’ve got time.  You can build something in five minutes or less.  You can build maybe six or seven devices and that half an hour.  Some people it would take longer than five minutes.  The idea is that you get a little bit of everything.  If you want to build stuff, you can build stuff.  If you don’t, you can go to one of the presentations that is going on.  I think it attracts.  I think it is better than a conference in which you just go and listen and watch.  This is your going to listen, watch, and do, and walk away with things you are going to use, things you can take back with you to help other individuals with particular challenging tasks.

Or for consumers.  I think it’s really cool when a consumer comes in and says, you know, I would really like to figure out a way that I can put a cup holder on my wheelchair.  Wouldn’t it be great that they leave that event and have a cup holder in their wheelchair? Or I really need a tray.  Can you figure out how I can get a tray on my wheelchair? I think it is great problem-solving involving lots of people coming together for a common goal.  That is to create rapid fabrication, rapid creation of solutions and minutes to help individuals with disabilities.

WADE WINGLER:  As you are describing that, I think it’s great.  I think of conferences, and usually I find a conference to be sort of a passive thing.  Then I’m active afterward and try to hang onto all the stuff I learned.  This sounds like it is very active while you’re there, which I think activates different learning centers and different momentum.  I think it’s awesome.

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Benjamin Franklin talked about the way we truly learn is being involved. You can talk to me, tell me, but if you involve me in the learning.  There is this whole thing about body memory.  When you start to touch, feel, putting things together — oh, and you know what else, this is really cool.  There was an article somebody showed me last week.  It talked about using your hands.  It talk about what happens to the brain when people are using their hands.  They get smarter, more inventive, creative.  It used to drive me crazy.  I would see these women knitting in a meeting! They would be knitting away. I would be thinking they are not listening to anything we are saying, they are just knitting away. And actually they are very much engaged, and they jump in with really creative ideas.  I was given my Coker a hard time.  Who has time to knit? We have too much work to do.  Then I watch how creative she’s been.  That’s all that knitting you are doing!

WADE WINGLER:  That’s great.

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: I think there’s something to be said about using our hands and what that does for our brains.

WADE WINGLER:  That makes sense.  We see all the manipulatives and fidgets and things like that.  I think there is something there.


WADE WINGLER:  I know that you didn’t do this on your own.  You have some sponsors and partners.  You want to give a shout to them?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: We are really honored to have ATIA involved. They’ve been one of the first sponsors.  They’ve been such a great champion. We have RESNA, who has agreed and is promoting the event.  We are offering the ATP units.  We have makers making change from Canada.  We have out of Delaware Fabricate doing some really great work.  We’ve got the Pennsylvania assistive technology initiative.  We’ve got Amy Goldman from AT3 who’s been doing such a great job of helping us figure out and coordinate all of the presenters for the event.  I’m probably missing somebody, so I apologize.  We have Loc-Line, that is a distributor for Loc-lines. They are coming.  They are going to be at the event.  There is a whole list of others.  Now I feel bad because I don’t have that list in front of me.  I would love to promote all of the people.

We are looking for more sponsors, more vendors.  We are trying to get companies like Home Depot, Instamore, Velcro USA. We are targeting a number of folks to be partners, to be vendors, sponsors, exhibitors, presenters, etc.

WADE WINGLER:  That’s awesome.  If people want to see the sponsors, I think they’re listed on the website.  The address is I’ll pop that in the show notes.  10 years from now when we bump into each other at a conference or something and have a cup of coffee, we are going to talk about how wildly successful the AT makers fairs have become.  When we look back on that, what are you going to say was the impact?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: I think the impact, as my experience this past year with the Christopher Reeve grants, the impact is I saw someone come up to me, and they said, you know, I went to one of these events, and you taught me how to make such and such. Let me show you pictures of all the different devices I made for this person or that person.  That is so incredibly powerful, so incredibly validating. You go to events and encumbrances and you learn and listen and watch, and the impact is when you are doing.  The most successful research shows that when you involve individuals with its abilities and creating your own solutions, they have a higher outcome of being used and being successful used to perform an essential task, whether it be at home, school, or at play.  When I look at the Reeve grants, I think we are at 1100 devices built and disseminated, which is pretty powerful.  This whole thing is how quickly can we get the device into the hands of the person who needs it.  I think that’s going to be a great outcome when you look at numbers of people actually using assistive technology that they otherwise would not have used.

WADE WINGLER:  Excellent.  One more time if people want to learn more, register, send a proposal, they are going to head over to the website which is  Right?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: That’s correct.

WADE WINGLER: Dr. Therese Willkomm is the director of the New Hampshire statewide assistive technology program and is super stoked about the AT makers conference coming up in September — what’s the date?

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: September 29.

WADE WINGLER:  September 29 in Concord, New Hampshire.  Thanks for being on the show.

  1. THERESE WILLKOMM: Great, thank you.

WADE WINGLER:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find other shows like this, plus much more, at The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners.  That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.

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