Berkeley Make-A-Thon helps make life easier for the disabled

PNP Blogger, Franklin Elieh, attended the Make-A-Thon in Berkeley on March 18th and was amazed with the spirit of the several dozen engineering volunteers working as teams to solve challenges posed to them by the disabled community. You can sense the amount of energy these youngsters were exuding the moment you entered the facility.

As previously reported by PNP, Drew McPherson, a C-6 quadriplegic mechanical engineering student at UC Berkeley, has worked with other engineering students for the past three years to create a club focused on developing assistive devices after seeing so many useless projects be built.

Though the event benefits individuals with any type of disability, I managed to meet a few who had spinal cord injuries and had submitted their request for solutions to their unique challenges.

A friend of mine, and current Santa Clara Valley Medical Center SCI peer supporter, Ligia Andrade was in attendance along with her dad. I met Ligia when she was injured about eight years ago in a car accident. She’s a C-5 complete injury and has a somewhat limited use of her arms. Her condition prevented her from applying make up and was dependent on her caregiver or one of her sons to hold and position her brushes, pencils, and lipsticks while she would move her face and apply her own makeup flawlessly.

Ligia behind her newly-designed Makeup Applicator

The design team assigned to her developed a nifty Makeup Applicator that holds all the applicators she uses and for the first time since her injury, Ligia was able to independently apply her own makeup.

I also met Rafe Biggs, another quadriplegic as a result of a fall some 10 years ago. Rafe uses a wireless leg bag emptier to manage his leg bag drainage and in his own words, it’s not a reliable system. His design team developed sensors that were attached to the bag and communicated with Rafe’s iPhone that allowed him to use an app to keep track of the last time the bag was emptied and how full it was in real time. This allowed him to avoid any overfills and backups as well as timely emptying of his leg bag.

Rafe and his design team with the leg bag emptier

This event’s origin comes from TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers ( , an organization that seeks to address neglected challenges and develop millions of affordable technological solutions for people with disabilities around the globe. It helped support TOM:Berkeley (, a local community for student makers, designers, developers and engineers working together with people with disabilities to develop technological solutions for everyday challenges. This event is co-organized by the student group EnableTech at UC Berkeley, who will provide support for projects to continue after the event.


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