Building Upon a Creative Foundation: Occupational Therapy and 3D Printing
There are many distinctive and impactful possibilities an occupational therapy practitioner (OT) or OT student might consider for 3D printing projects. Whether in a clinical or academic setting, groundbreaking designs and modifications can benefit the clients we serve while cutting costs of expensive devices or medical equipment. Occupational therapy academic programs may consider a unique collaborative opportunity with clinical site partners to provide various types of adaptive equipment occupational therapists can supply to their clients.
In a hand therapy setting, for instance, splints can be created for patients using design software and a 3D printer, given an appropriate type of filament (printing material) is used to ensure durability and safety. In pediatrics, a 3D printer can be used to create customized adaptive toys to provide easy use for children with disabilities. This type of accessible design encourages the child to engage in the meaningful occupation of play. Regardless of the age of the individual, there remains an exciting opportunity to think outside the box to create something that will not only be meaningful to the individual but will also improve their functional participation in some way.
Numerous websites such as Thingiverse contain libraries of 3D printing projects and have files available for individuals to access and use for free. There are hundreds of items created for public use on these domains, but occupational therapists can also be trained within their curriculum to use 3D printing software to create their own designs.
Some additional examples of 3D printing projects occupational therapy students or professionals might consider include the following:
1) Anti-tremor utensils incorporate a weighted pendulum using batteries as counterweight. A rotating handle helps keep the utensil level and allows individuals with tremors to feed themselves independently.
2) Universal cuffs allow individuals who have difficulties with strength, grip, or fine motor control to manipulate objects such as pens, pencils, or styluses for more effective use. Built-up or weighted handles that hold these items are also options.
3) Adaptive dice with raised 3D dots provide an individual with visual impairments or blindness with the ability to engage in an activity or game.
4) For an individual who has difficulty opening a bottle to retrieve pills, an adaptive pill dispenser dispenses individual pills to eliminate the need for fine motor movements.
Founded within the mental health and wellness realm, the occupational therapy profession prides itself on its creative upbringing and background, combining participation in activities of daily living (ADLs) with arts and crafts. Customized 3D printing designs created with functional engagement in mind will increase appeal and improve the likelihood of adherence for the persons, groups, and populations we aim to serve. Exciting possibilities to cultivate innovative outlets for the purpose of positively impacting others gives OT a unique opportunity to revisit our creative foundation.
To learn more about the Doctoral Program in Occupational Therapy at Huntington University, visit huntington.edu/OTD.