The following blog post was written by Paul Nyhan, a staff writer with the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. Paul is a 20-year journalism veteran who has written extensively about disability issues.
When Mick Ebeling first learned how 14-year-old Daniel lost his arms during a bombing in the war-torn Nuba Mountains of South Sudan he didn’t reach for his checkbook. Instead, he reached for technology that could give Daniel a new arm: a 3-D printer.
Within months, Ebeling traveled more than 7,000 miles to Daniel’s home in remote Sudan with that technology and printed a new prosthetic arm from spools of plastic. In less than a day, Daniel fed himself for the first time in two years.
In the process, Ebeling and his team established what may be the world's first 3-D printing prosthetic lab and training facility, one that has created an arm a week since their initial visit.
With Project Daniel, Ebeling and his organization, Not Impossible Labs, showed how accessible the latest technology can be, and the power of that technology to change lives even in remote parts of the world. Technology shouldn’t be intimidating, but instead should be easily accessible, a tool that should make people’s lives better wherever they live, Ebeling says. “Technology for the sake of humanity” is Not Impossible’s rallying cry.
“The thing that I am most excited about is that this has awoken the realization that this is not rocket science. If we can continue to show people that technology is not this foreign inaccessible thing that you can’t actually use, but it is something that is very real and that can help the world and help individuals within the world, then Project Daniel is going to be the first of many things,” Ebeling said in a short film of the Chronicles project on The Verge and presented by OneDrive.
It wasn’t easy to build a 3-D printing lab in a mountain village. But teaching people who had rarely if ever used a computer how to use a 3-D printer with Windows-enabled and other types of laptops was not a problem. Residents of Daniel’s village learned to create plastic prosthetics in a few sessions, and today a workshop at a local hospital prints prosthetic limbs.
The problems were ever-present dust clogging the printer, hundred-degree days softening plastic materials and simply traveling 7,000-plus miles from Ebeling’s California home to the war-torn Nuba Mountains in South Sudan. These conditions, not technology, were the barriers.
But, the Not Impossible team figured out how to make everything work because it is driven by the belief that technology should be a powerful and accessible force for good.
“Everything we do is about accessibility,” Ebeling said. “That is the lowest common denominator. Accessibility should not be governed by someone’s socio-economic status.”
Not Impossible Labs is just getting started. This fall, they will launch two more laboratories, likely one in Vietnam and possibly another in Tanzania, Nicaragua, Haiti, or India. Project Daniel was only the second initiative by Not Impossible Labs, and potentially the beginning of a wave of accessible technology projects around the world.