On Saturday, July 28th, we hosted a workshop on 3D printing for teens with disabilities held at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. 3D printing is becoming more popular with the increased availability and competition in the marketplace. Open source, commercial and mixed-license 3D printers are getting installed in classrooms, libraries, Makerspaces, community centers and even in some children’s bedrooms!

We wanted to have a workshop on 3D printing because it is the next step in personal technology, with current computers we can make DVDs (old school already), print documents, stickers, photographs and make videos that can be seen by 1 to 100 million people. 3D printing is no different – it is almost identical to using File –> Print and this makes 3D printing accessible to everyone.

As more people with disabilities have access to computers through operating system accessibility features, joysticks, head mice and eye gaze, whatever the technology is used to gain access, 3D printing is also an option for them to explore their creativity, make custom devices and perhaps find interests that become sustainable careers.

So what is 3D printing?  3D printing allows your idea of a physical object to be constructed in 3D on the computer with software then printed in real life in plastic, metal or even glass.

How we ran our 3D printing workshop:

  1. With access to a computer web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox) we opened Tinkercad, a free, easy to use browser based 3D modeling web application that is perfect for beginners.
  2. In the Learning section of Tinkercad we went through a few lessons, make your own buttons, personalized keychain, even a lesson on building a robot figurine. The lessons are great with simple instructions to break down tasks. The main difficulty we had was the size of the scaling, rotation and push/pull object markers to manipulate the shapes – several teens have limited hand control and getting the mouse directly over the markers (probably no bigger than 10×10 pixel squares) – if these markers were able to toggle to a larger size Tinkercad would be very accessible for people with limited hand control as well as people with visual impairments.
  3. Once a lesson was completed you were left with a 3D model of a button or keychain on your screen – it’s time to print! Tinkercad allows you to export your work as an .stl file, this is the file format that will be used to generate the commands for the Makerbot 3D printer.
  4. With the .stl file, we opened Replicator G, converted the file as GCode. The GCode will tell the printer how to print in all directions, X (left-right), Y, (front-back) and Z (bottom-top).
  5. Preheat Makerbot. Print. Wait. Watch. Wait some more. Done!

Overall the workshop was a success, 3D printing was new to the group, even to myself but it was simple to make small objects and learn about this process – one more cool trick that personal computers can perform. I’m not sure if the workshop converted any teens into thinking about careers in 3D modeling but I am sure they will look at plastic objects differently.

The world is opened with access to technology – regardless of physical, sensory and mental impairments, computers can provide equality to expressing creativity, acting on your interests and creating careers. This was our 2nd workshop for teens, the first was introduction to programming with Scratch and next week we will have another on simple circuit and things you can do with an Arduino.

Special thanks to Erica Newman for assisting in the workshop and Jaymes Dec, teacher at Mary Mount School’s FabLab for his support. Their energy was awesome with the group. Thanks to ITP/NYU for their space and interest!

Enjoy the photos and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Group photo with John Schimmel and Jaymes Dec and teens in front of Makerbot

Getting started with Tinkercad - teenage boy sits with DIYAbility Assistant

Getting started with Tinkercad - view of laptop screen with Tinkercad software and teenage boy smiling

Getting ready to print on the Makerbot - teenage boy waiting next to Makerbot in his wheelchair

Teenage boy playing with ITP's Wooden Mirror in his wheelchair

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