BY JOE MARVILLI
Everyone uses assistive technology in their daily lives. Whether it is a pair of glasses, a car or a phone calendar, this type of technology has become engrained in society.
An exhibit at the New York Hall of Science is celebrating how innovations are blurring the line between casual use and those who use assistive tech to help with their disabilities.
“Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering” is an interactive exhibit that tells the stories of the disabled and the engineers who have created products to help themselves and others live their lives and achieve their dreams.
The project was conceived by Eric Siegel, director and chief content officer at NYSCI. His daughter, Lili, has cerebral palsy and uses a walker that he described as “clumsy and inadequate.” About eight years ago, he brought some designers together and asked his daughter what she would want if she could have anything, and how she would design it. This meeting got Eric thinking about how assistive technology is used.
“Basically, we’re all wrapped in this ecosystem of technology that extends our abilities,” he said. “The difference between people who use technology because they have disabilities and people who use technology just on their ongoing basis is kind of a fuzzy line.”
From there, he started creating “Human Plus,” after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation and finding partners in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Quality of Life Technology Center.
The purpose of the display was to put a human face on engineering to broaden interest for young girls and women and to engage people who use assistive technology in helping design the exhibit.
“We learned a bunch of things from engaging them. One was that high-tech is not necessarily best. Sometimes low-tech really works well,” Eric said. “The other thing we learned is that the stories of people who use the technology are more interesting than the technology itself.”
Many of the stories found in “Human Plus” focus on ordinary people looking to make their lives with a disability a little easier.
Carrie Krischke is a veteran who has worked closely with a team of researchers to improve the DEKA prosthetic arm, to replace the one she lost. Unlike older prosthetics, this arm has six different grips and a wrist that rotates. According to Krischke, the new assistive is a significant improvement to what she used to use.
Outdoor adventurer Erik Weihenmayer is the only blind person to ever climb Mount Everest. In order to hike, he uses a range of items, from simple ideas like having a fellow hiker ring a bell to help him follow a trail to advanced technology like adjustable hiking poles or a talking GPS.
“Human Plus” will be on display at NYSCI until May 4. The exhibit is free with the cost of admission.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.