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‘Engineering at Home’ Seeks to Foster a ‘More Inclusive Engineering Discipline,’ Inspired by Quadruple Amputee’s Story & Needs

While reading about researcher & artist Sara Hendren’s work over at Makezine, she mentions the project Engineering at Home which is an amazing site on several fronts. Sara describes the project:

It’s a gonzo archive of tools that are used, made, or assembled by a woman named Cindy, who’s a quadruple amputee. She had a heart attack at age 60 and luckily survived that. But with complications resulting from a coma, she lost both of her lower leg limbs and most of all ten of her finger digits. Quite a lot of loss of both gross motor and fine motor skills that then resulted in a new body for her, quite late in life.

I’m unaware if a collection of tools for various disabilities is already available or not – Thingiverse have an amputee tag, but every person’s story is different and sub-filters don’t seem available. Of course the Engineering at Home site is Cindy’s story, but the tools seem broadly applicable for others – and the site shows how something as simple as cutting an apple or using a fork have to be reconsidered for Cindy’s needs. The adaptations address functions as diverse as cutting, grasping, pinching, and more. Cindy describes her story,

Cindy woke up in a room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in September 2009 in a radically altered body. She suffered a catastrophic heart attack while on vacation two months earlier and was med-flighted from Maine to Boston. In response to the heart attack, Cindy experienced an adverse reaction to medication and multiple organ failure. Despite dire predictions, Cindy survived and made it through weeks of delirium where she was never fully conscious. These complications resulted in amputations involving all four limbs: both of her legs below the knees and varying amounts of each of her fingers.

Cindy was lucky. Her doctors had been pessimistic about her survival. But waking up, alive, also meant a long recovery that included making friends with a fundamentally new physicality: a body that now required adaptations, extensions, and subtle changes that she and her family could never have anticipated from her hospital bed.

It wasn’t easy. It took Cindy months to want to look at her legs and hands; and even today, six years later, there is a brief moment when she wakes up in the morning before she remembers how different her life is now.

With time, though, Cindy regained her ability to walk and started to find a “new normal.” She got great care from occupational therapists, physical therapists, physicians, and prosthetists. But over time she found that the standard tools provided to her, even at a top-flight rehab hospital, didn’t facilitate some of the most important things she wanted to recover—how to write a thank you note, feed herself, put on makeup and jewelry, turn the pages in a picture book as she reads to her grandchildren. So Cindy started to design and build what she needed. From small hacks on her hand cream jar to repurposing cable ties for pulling out drawers and salad tongs for holding a sandwich, Cindy has embraced an everyday engineering ethic that she never thought possible.

Read more about Sara Hendren’s work here and check out Engineering at Home here.


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