Introducing: On the Level

I was recently inspired to enter a contest hosted by Hackster called Build2Gether. Its a contest where approved entrants can receive free IoT gear from sponsors that include  BluesETH ZurichGoogleM5StackPCBWay and Useful Sensors. The submissions must be an inclusive innovation in one of three themes: Travel, Swimming or Gaming. Inclusive means something that works for people with a range of different physical and/or sensory abilities. So, not something that works for disabled people, but more something that *also works* for a wide range of people.

One of the criteria for the contest involves recording your creative process and solution path to an invention. This is a great excuse for me to dive into some introspection in that area. Creativity is a ninja, so I have to start before I realized it was happening.

I saw a link to the contest landing page early one morning while drinking my coffee. Early morning can be a receptive time where I am more apt to follow the rabbit down the hole – so I went. I saw the basic criteria and thought – “I wonder if I could fill out their application off the top of my head?” Once in a while I will give myself enough rope to “see what happens” with a killswitch at the ready.

Filling out the application became gradually more challenging but I was able to come up with a concept riffing on a stream-of-consciousness notion of pet peeves of mine. Such as static accommodations for disabilities. Modifications that make it harder for everyone else to use something, or require demolition to remove. I was also reminded of a cool concept I saw on a show called “Hack My Home.” They used a standing desk kit to hide small appliances under a kitchen counter. A lot of lateral thinking and sifting through recent stuff that caught my attention that might be relevant.

I managed to fill out the form and submit it, and I looked at some of the other submissions (they are all accessible to entrants I guess?) and noticed that a lot of them were fairly similar. After I got an email confirmation that my entry had been received I went back and spent a little more time reading the contest details and realized I had completely missed the part about the themes. I thought “oh well, wasted a few minutes- not going to get any free stuff or possible prizes this time.”

Then I read that the submission deadline had been extended and it was possible to edit them. I loaded mine up and tweaked my idea to make it fit the theme, just in case it might recover my chances. My idea is to make a kitchen where the counters, sink and cabinets move vertically to allow use by adults, children, someone seated or in a wheelchair. So I put the kitchen in a travel trailer.

person using kitchen sink from wheelchair
The permanent solution
An adaptive kitchen for a non-camping vehicle

But after I submitted my revised entry I realized something profound had happened. Somehow my seemingly random stream of ideas had rounded a corner and I was facing my late brother-in-law Jim. Jim was a young man when I met him who suffered from a disease similar to ALS called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The difference with SMA is that it doesn’t progress as rapidly and generally doesn’t directly kill you. A lot of what I know about disability I learned through Jim. He loved to cook, travel, and camp. He would pull himself up from his wheelchair over the stove to stir sauce. He would drive his conversion van his brother’s camp to hang out and ride around. He loved to laugh and share stories.

Build2gether staircase of development

Letting go of pre-determined agendas and just flowing with what the world puts in front of me reveals the lens that I see through. Its my grown-up version of drawing pictures of things when I was a kid. Kids don’t usually have an internal debate about what to draw. They draw what they see and what interests them.

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