Some of the most inspirational and altruistic ideas come from focusing on personal problems, or the struggles of those we love. Combine that focus with the capability of 3D printing to democratize the design and creation of solutions, and you can get something truly wonderful. Dustin’s Words co-founder Matt Reamer did just that.Dustin's Words Autism Project - Matt Reamer

Dustin’s Words is a project to design and build custom augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC, devices for autistic individuals. Reamer’s older brother, Dustin, has autism. Inspired by his own family and many other families like his, he set out to create affordable, custom-designed AAC devices for the autistic community.

“Growing up and seeing my [family’s] difficulties,” Reamer said, “I can relate and feel for these families we talk to. Our similar situations help us bond and ultimately leads to a trusting relationship.”

The AAC devices currently offered on the market can cost as much as $8,000, or even more. Reamer wanted to create a solution that enabled families to communicate with their loved ones, without having to pay the exorbitant prices for modern AACs; 3D printing helped bring that solution to life.Dustin's Words Autism Project - Matt Reamer1

Dustin’s Words uses a 3D printer from MakerBot, printing with PLA to prototype new designs and print the exterior shell of the AACs, and they’ve also had some initial designs printed by Shapeways. It allows for a huge cost savings, as it enables them to pivot the design multiple times a week and create complete customized prototypes.

unnamedSince its initial inception, the design has changed from a corded device to an on-board battery, from charging with USB to charging with micro-USB, and they have even been experimenting with digital buttons on LCD screens which would allow caregivers to adjust the responses on the device on the fly.

Customization is important, as it allows for catering to the patient’s needs. Dustin’s original device, for example, had a metallic surface on the face because he liked looking at his reflection. Reamer has also been experimenting with NinjaFlex material because of some of the AAC requirements like durability, softness (because many users can be self-harmers), and lining for shock sensitivity.

Dustin's Words Autism Project - Matt Reamer3Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and Dustin’s Words marked the date by launching an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for their first 100 prototypes. They plan to mass produce 90 of them, with the other 10 being custom builds. Reamer plans to keep the entire body of work open source and upload all of the AAC designs to Thingiverse and Github. He hopes to evolve the project into non-profit, providing low-cost or free AAC solutions for families of those with autism around the world.

“After speaking with many families and hearing their struggles in paying for or even obtaining AAC devices, it made even more sense to me,” Reamer said. “I just want to give these families a free alternative. Something that is build specifically for them and designed to be malleable for each individual’s unique situation.”

Dustin’s Words is yet another example of the great things that can be created by the combining 3D printing technology and innovative ideas.

What do you think about the concept behind Dustin’s Words? Let us know in the 3D Printed Accessibility Device forum thread over at 3DPB.com. Check out Reamer’s video, below, describing the project’s inspiration.

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