TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers), is a global non-profit movement bringing together people with disabilities and ‘Makers’ to develop open source assistive technology to address everyday challenges. After its successful debut in 2016, TOM: Melbourne was back for a second year running from 1-3 December.

TOM: Melbourne was a three day ‘marathon of making’ in partnership with Swinburne University of Technology to develop affordable, assistive technology that addresses the needs of people with disabilities.

Teams of Makers – engineers, product designers, innovators and problem solvers, were connected with Need Knowers – individuals with a deep understanding of a specific disability or challenge, to develop hardware and software prototypes.

In collaboration with communities, organisations, and corporations worldwide, TOM brings together social activism, open innovation, and open source to work directly with people in need to address areas where market forces fail.

TOM inspires the tech community to use their skills for good and make a positive impact. There were 11 challenges which consisted of things that able-bodied people take for granted, but addressed the needs of people with disabilities, from being able to dry yourself independently, being able to play golf, stirring boiling liquids in a pot, going fishing, or just being able to draw independently.

Telstra Labs supported the event as a TOM Change Maker, assisting with judging and mentoring, and a team of Telstra graduates formed Team7 to tackle the Seeing Eye Dog harness challenge.

Harness handles for Seeing Eye Dogs vary in length depending on individual users, meaning specialised handles with varied lengths are required to be made for every user. Furthermore, Seeing Eye dog harnesses have the potential to incorporate technological features. Can the Seeing Eye Dog harness be redesigned to be both ‘smart’ and adjustable?

The team took on both problems and made many prototypes of the adjustable harness over the 72 hours, testing it with their Need Knower, Sif, as well as adding a Bluetooth button to the harness which was able to trigger different events on the Need Knower’s phone, from starting navigation, answering calls, or being able to find friends nearby using an app developed over the weekend.

As part of the closing ceremony, Sif was able to demonstrate the new handle and described how much of a difference this will make to her life. In fact, every Need Knower said something similar about each solution, which reinforces the whole purpose of the event.

Team7 was made up entirely of current Telstra Graduates, including Elise Ajay, David Andersson, Josh Hart, James Coburn, Mathew Greaves, Ben Tutone and Taylor Brown.