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30th June 2016

Turning disability into superpower

Jordan Reeves, born with what she calls “a little arm,” has worn seven different prosthetic hands in her 10 years. This year, she designed a really special one – a five-barreled glitter blaster.

“You can’t be sad when you’re covered in sparkles,” she says.

The dream of having a hand with magical princess-like powers led Jordan into the new world of 3D printing, where imagination can become reality in ways unthinkable just a generation ago.

At the invitation of a nonprofit design firm that works with kids, Jordan and five other children with upper limb differences attended a five-day crash course in the San Francisco Bay Area, learning computer-aided design, electronics plaster and alginate casting, 3D printing and scanning.

Each participant in the Superhero Cyborgs event was paired with a designer who would work with them over the next several months to perfect the projects. The idea, say the organizers, is to reframe disability as opportunity. Why try to replicate the functionality of a hand when you can create something that can do things hands can’t do?

“One of the things I wanted to focus on was making a prosthetic arm that was more playful, more fun. We have the opportunity here to make this person into a superhero, which is pretty rad,” said one of the designers. One child created an arm that shoots darts 20 feet into the sky. Another came up with a design that can be modified endlessly with Legos. A 12-year-old created a water gun activated by an elbow movement –perfect for those family water fights.

Jordan worked on her sparkle blaster, which she calls “Project Unicorn.”

The project hit snags along the way. The arm kept slipping off, and her original idea had to be modified. But she persevered, learning to overcome the stress of setbacks. “I’ll use the Force,” she said in a video of her progress.

Her latest design is lavender and styled to look like the horn of a unicorn. It shoots cartridges of glitter in different colors, with spare rounds kept on the thigh. The design won an award at this year’s Maker Faire in Washington, DC.

What’s next on Jordan’s design agenda? A selfie-stick arm, equipped with Bluetooth.