Home of the Innocents uses assistive devices in its work with medically complex kids. Thanks to a gift from a donor–a 3D printer–therapists at the Home are making some of those devices on their own. We spoke to speech pathologist Cortney Friess about how the printer is helping improve lives for the kids under her care.
Home of the Innocents is a nonprofit organization that offers residential and community-based behavioral health services, therapeutic foster care and adoption services, and long-term care for medically complex or terminally ill children who can’t be cared for at home.
Tell us about what you do.
Friess: Home of the Innocents has two parts. I work in the pediatric convalescent side where we serve children, birth through age 21, with a focus on those who are medically fragile or are unable to be cared for in the home at this time. We have diagnoses from cerebral palsy to ventilator dependence, any reason they are unable to be cared for at their homes. They are some of the most complex kiddos you will see in terms of therapy needs and physical ability.
What is one of the issues you face in doing your job?
Friess: A lot of our residents struggle to use their hands in a functional manner. They don’t have those fine motor skills. They need a lot of adaptive equipment in order to help them reach their full potential. I’m constantly trying to find ways to help make their experience as typical as possible. I’d like for them to be able to color. I want them to be able to pick music to listen to. I want them to be able to interact with their environment in a way that is both fulfilling and functional for them. But the adaptive equipment we need is very, very expensive.
How did the idea for the 3D printer come about?
Friess: If you put the word ‘adaptive’ in front of anything, it multiplies the price by like 600%. That’s definitely a restriction for us since we work in a nonprofit facility. Parents aren’t necessarily able to pay $100 for a keyguard and we can’t supply one for every resident who needs one. The idea for the 3D printer came about because I got really frustrated when looking at the prices of adaptive utensil holders, of tactile symbols, of charts, etc. It’s $100 for a piece of plastic!
We started doing research. Printing these things via 3D printers came up and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I found some really good websites that actually give you the product files and you can manipulate them. We were able to get a 3D printer from a very generous donor, and then it really kind of took off from there.
Are you teaching yourselves how to use it?
Friess: It’s definitely a piece of technology that is so far beyond me, it’s not even funny. I don’t spend as much time on it as I would obviously like to because at the end of the day I still have all my therapy responsibilities and all my leadership responsibilities. But we’re doing little bits at a time to make some useful adaptive equipment for these kiddos.
What’s an example of an adaptive device you’ll be able to print?
Friess: We have a four-year-old boy here who likes to scribble. He is able to do a fisted grasp but doesn’t have the fine motor ability to hold a crayon or pencil in the normal way. We can print a device that holds a writing utensil that lets him grasp the pen and rest his hand on the paper so he can do the wrist movement to get some scribbles or some colors. It’s nice because it costs us $30 for a roll of filament.
The object itself costs about a dollar to make, which is amazing because if we had tried to find this commercially available, it could have been anywhere up to $200 or $300. It was cheap enough that we can just give it to him. That’s a really big deal because we obviously don’t want to teach them skills just to use in therapy. We want it to be able to be something they take to the floor with them or take home with them eventually.
What long-term benefits do you see for The Home of the Innocents with this tech?
Friess: Really, the sky is the limit. We have so many ideas for things that we want to make in the future. It’s just all about time and getting a little bit better at it. We need to figure out what we’re not able to do and reach out to our community to find someone to help us maybe learn how to use the 3D printer a little bit better. So it’s been a journey and it’s still obviously going on but it’s been so cool. So amazing to have that chance.