This system developed at a Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) "make-a-thon" allows people who are paralyzed from the neck down to turn pages in a book. (photo credit: JNS.ORG)


Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), a game-changing global humanitarian project dedicated to creating and distributing highly affordable inventions to help neglected populations, brought its successful make-a-thon concept to New York on February 21-23. Over the course of the weekend, over 50 volunteers from Columbia University, joined together with seven TOM Fellows from other universities to work at the Columbia University Makerspace, housed in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, with a group of individuals living with disabilities to create solutions for their unique challenges. The TOM solutions were judged by the directors of Mount Sinai’s Abilities Research Center, U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University, and the Columbia Makerspace.

To date, TOM communities around the world have held more than 80 make-a-thons, which are usually three-day marathons of innovation engaging engineers, programmers, occupational therapists, and product designers, with people who face challenges that have no affordable solutions. TOM teams around the world create innovative open-source solutions, which are documented and then published on TOM’s public domain website, so that they can be further developed and replicated to serve anybody anywhere.

The recent event focused on issues impacting a wounded veteran, a man whose leg was amputated, and a woman with spinal muscular atrophy.

Three of the people who were served at the event include:

  • U.S. Army veteran Tom Smoot, Jr. of New York found that the best way to cope with his PTSD was exercise and endurance training. But the strict regimen has led to leg soreness and strain, as well as peroneal tendonitis. The TOM make-a-thon participants prototyped “I RUN IT,” a custom compression garment that aids in recovery from endurance races during sporting events.

    Makers create water resistant prosthetic leg for Joán Bolanos Martinez
  • Joán Bolanos Martinez, originally from Venezuela, feels held back by the limits of his sophisticated prosthetic device, which he wears as a result of having one of his legs amputated after a major car accident. The TOM make-a-thon participants created their “Makerspace-able Prosthetic Leg,” a mechanical prosthetic that is water resistant in order to allow users to keep them on while showering or walking in the rain.
Makers create power wheelchair for Ariella Barker
  • Ariella Barker of Massachusetts has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Due to her globe-trotting lifestyle, Barker lives in constant concern about her wheelchair becoming damaged or lost during her travels. The TOM make-a-thon students prototyped their “Power Wheelchair Brace + Carrying Case,” custom for Ariella’s Permobil C400 wheelchair to protecting it as she travels through airports.

The solutions created at the event, similar to those developed by other TOM Communities, are designed to be replicated in local makerspaces worldwide. The instructions and blueprints can be found on the TOM website so that people around the world who face similar challenges can use these solutions or develop them further.

“The mission of TOM is to provide highly affordable solutions to underserved people anywhere. Programs like this make-a-thon demonstrate the tremendous potential that exists in universities across the U.S. and around the world to solve needs of people living with disabilities, the elderly, or the poor,” said TOM founder and president Gideon Grinstein. “Our goal is to help 250 million people within a decade and programs like the one in Columbia highlight our model so that it can be scaled to thousands of campuses and help millions of people.”

Launched in 2014 by the Reut Group, Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is an Israeli global humanitarian project dedicated to creating and distributing highly affordable inventions to help the elderly, the impoverished, and people living with disabilities. TOM supports communities that foster a unique partnership between those who struggle and the engineers, programmers, product engineers, and others who can help them. As of January 2020, TOM has operated in 67 local TOM communities in 22 countries and five continents, who are developing 450 TOM Solutions with the potential of improving the lives of millions of people. For more information and to get involved, please visit


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