Embracing Responsibility, Community and Disability Through the KMDI-Semaphore Makerspace

By Jose Guzman, KMDI-Semaphore and Faculty of Information Student

My name is Jose Guzman and I enjoy discussing, writing and making things. I have always had a creative mind and have been interested in expressing it through various mediums. I’ve written a TV series screenplay that was optioned in 2015, written a novel that was published in 2018, and also in 2018, I began my graduate studies at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. I was motivated to start graduate studies at the Faculty of Information after graduating from University of Toronto Mississauga with an undergraduate degree in Communication, Culture, Information and Technology. In my last year at UTM I took two user experience design courses with Professor Cosmin Munteaunu. In those classes I began to think about physical, digital and access to technologies for disability. As I myself have a physical disability, cerebral palsy, which affects my muscle movement and walking gait. I began to work on a foot range of motion device prototype, I crafted using a steel rod and plaster in Professor Munteanu’s class. Also, I began to think of access to digital technologies for disabled people. This motivated me to enrol in the Faculty of Information concentration Critical Information Policy Studies.

3-D printers are one of the many technologies available in the KMDI-Semaphore makerspace. (Source.)

In September of 2018 my graduate studies officially began. I hadn’t worked on my foot range of motion device since my last semester at UTM ended and I was still interested in improving my prototype. By January of 2019 I received an email notifying me of a job posting for Lab Attendant for something called the KMDI-Semaphore Makerspace. I read through the email and it mentioned 3D printers and scanners and I decided this would be the perfect place for me to learn about and even work on disability technologies like the one I sought to make. I went to the interview in room 307 of the Claude T. Bissell Building and by February 2019 I was hired and trained by research assistant and Faculty of Information PhD candidate Lee Wilkins. Lee was instrumental in not only teaching me how the actual 3D printers worked, but also through meeting Lee and learning more about makerspaces, I found out just how tied makers, makerspaces and disability are.

As the months progressed, I was printing different plastic objects for other students, as needed for projects or demonstrations and I also began to improve my prototype device. I created different plastic representations of my device and began to expand upon its design. While eventually I would run into obstacles for completing my device, related to time and resources, I learned through the experience of being a lab attendant and later research assistant, as of May 2019, makerspaces are places for innovation, particularly in regards to disability.

Makerspaces are spaces for people with disabilities to make, hack and adapt technologies for proper and accessible use. But also, makerspaces are spaces for digital and social activism, re-positioning disabled people as the makers, users and voices of the technologies and spaces they occupy. Makerspaces are a resistance to the status-quo of poor fitting disability technologies that did not include a disabled person in the design process.

Arduino is basically an open source mini-computer. These are one of the many technologies you can learn to leverage with KMDI-Semaphore. (Source.)

So, to bring everything together, through the KMDI-Semaphore Makerspace, I learned I had a responsibility to my fellow Faculty of Information students to be a representative of KMDI-Semaphore. Also, it ignited my participation with the disability community itself and made my experience at the Faculty of Information more complete. I became more involved at the iSchool as a result of a job posting, met great people and learned more about myself, and the disability community in the process. Thank you KMDI-Semaphore.

(Feature image source. Used with CC BY-SA 4.0 licensing.)

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