Disabled children can require complex and expensive equipment, often complicated by the need to meet the child’s individual requirements. 

But could the growing 3D printing industry hold the key to treating and managing children’s disabilities and offer technological advances in equipment?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process where a three-dimensional object is built up by applying repeated layers of material in three dimensions. The process is very much like a traditional printer in that the ‘printer head’ moves in two dimensions.  The materials used range from simple plastics to specialised metals.

Here are 8 ways the 3d printing revolutions will help children with disabilities in the future. 

Personalised Equipment

3D printing ) is bringing a little magic to the lives of disabled children already. Take the story 

of Emma Lavelle, now 5, born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a rare non-progressive condition which meant her legs were folded up by her ears and her shoulders were turned inwards. With the help of a 3D printer Emma now has a lightweight plastic vest.

As soon as the vest was fitted, Emma began to use her arms and now refers to the system as her ‘magic arms’.

This will undoubtedly transform the lives of assistive technology users as well by allowing them to help design better-looking devices that are both quicker and cheaper to make.

As a manufacturer, Fireflyfriends.com, has been asked to design bespoke and personalised GoTo Seats 

for children up to the age of 10. With the help of a 3D printer it could be feasible, in the future, to take individual measurements and print personalised equipment then mail it to the customer all within 24 hours.

Adaptive clothing

With the recent success of special needs clothing companies such as Downs Designs and Blossom, the demand for adaptive clothing is rising.

With a 3D printer, companies could design adaptive clothing specifically for special needs children. Customers will be able to send their measurements online, including sleeve length, torso length, chest and waist circumference along with requested adaptations.

Body organs

Some disabled children and adults have ongoing breathing problems. Another biological application 3D printing could provide are 3D silicone tracheas, which take just 15 minutes to 3D-print. It is a way off but the next step is to incorporate a patient's own biological material to reproduce the trachea, lowering the risk of the body rejecting it or requiring replacements. With much research this could eventually become possible for other organs such as lungs, heart and kidneys.

Mobility cars

3D printed mobility cars will be something to watch for in the future. Manufacturers like Ford already use 3D printing to build prototypes. As 3D printing becomes more and more popular, special needs parents will be able to use file sharing sites like Pirate Bay to source blueprints for mobility cars. Fans of Porsche can source mini versions of the Porsche Cayman and, more recently, Honda did the same for five of its concept cars.

Prosthetic limbs

3D printing has already begun changing the world of prosthetics. Dennis Weikel 

is having the lower half of his body scanned and digitised. It’s the first step towards getting a new type of cover for his prosthetic leg. He hopes it will finally allow him to stop hiding the fact that he is an amputee.

By scanning an amputees’ surviving limb, San Francisco-based company, Bespoke Innovations can make a matching prosthetic copy, thereby re-creating the body’s natural symmetry and giving amputees a prosthetic that is fabricated specifically for them. Experts also believe this will eventually be replaced with the printing of organic tissue to remake biological limbs.

Accessibility solutions

Facing accessibility issues Disabled Berliner Raul Krauthausen bought himself a 3D printer to use as a hobby. Remarkably, Raul used it to create something more useful for himself: portable plastic ramps. Krauthausen taught himself by watching online tutorials, then created a pair of plastic chocks - textured on one side to prevent tyre-slippage - to help him over occasional steps.

"I decided to print a ramp because I am a wheelchair user. I often have problems getting into places with just one step in front of the entrance. I thought it would be good if I could carry one with me on the back of my wheelchair, not too big and not too heavy."

Sensory Toys

The 3D printing of toys is becoming more and more popular. The toy industry will be one of the first to realise its full potential for the process - companies like Disney are already building 3D printed toys.

Nobody is working specifically on sensory toys for special needs children yet, but hopefully, in the near future, parents will be able to personalise, create and modify sensory toys based on their child's specific needs.

Special needs learning

A learning aid built by a postgraduate student at Ahmedabad's National Institute of Design (NID) may well turn out to be the “holy braille” for visually-impaired children.The student, Tania Jain, and a Hyderabad-based ophthalmologist, Dr Anthony Vipin Das, created ‘Fittle’, a 3D-printed puzzle that lets children learn the letters of braille and sense the objects the words convey.

With current technology, Fittle can be downloaded through open source platforms from the website and the letters can be printed by anyone with a 3D printer. This could allow parents and educators to design and print learning aids which incorporate braille.

 

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