Assistive Technology with Ability Mate

How can 3D Printing assist people with disabilities by make their lives a little bit easier? This is what a small disruptive group of talented designer, called AbilityMate, set out to do. Their aim is to increase innovation and reduce cost of Assistive Tech by 10x across the board. They have been working on prototypes, which is starting to change the lives of those they help.

February this year, Karingal and AbilityMate held an innovative design make-a-thon at respite house Melaluka. The resulting designs from the session were made using 3D printing technology sponsored by Imaginables.



Using Ultimaker 3D printers, AbilityMate used the machines as tools to prototype ideas on the fly by workshopping directly with the end users.

We spoke to Johan du Plesis, one of the founders of AbilityMate we explained one of the challenges that we face today is how expensive custom built assistive technology can be.

Johan showed us an off-the shelf oversized button switch meant to make it easier for someone with limited mobility to be able to easily press. He explains the problem is with devices such as these, the manufacturer is only able to produce small quantities to meet the current demand. As such prices per unit are high in order to offset their production cost.

"Unfortunately they are ridiculously expensive - $100 for the switch, $100 for the baseplate, and over $400 for the adapter to connect it to your PC!!" explains Johan.

Johan then showed us a comparative 3D printed button they had designed in a similar fashion. Their 3D printed button which cost approximately $5 to 3D print on the Ultimaker worked perfectly, compared to its off-the shelf equivalent.


Ability Mate Designer Kin Ly and Rick created this simple attachment together. Now after 9 years Rick can drive his wheel chair independently again. On its own, this little green device created using an Ultimaker 3D printer might not look like much but for Rick it represents independence. 

By the end of the session, Rick was the proud new owner of a wheelchair toggle that enables him to manoeuvre his wheelchair without the assistance of a carer. 

The design is open-source and available on Instructables -



For Eliza, the team printed a personalised straw holder which made it easier for her to drink from a cup unassisted. The simple straw holder was an example of a small item which makes a huge difference for people like Eliza.

The participants also managed to have some fun with the Ultimaker 3D printers. Here the team printed a simple badge for a huge St Kilda Football Club Fan.

We look forward to seeing more work from AbilityMate to see how they are able to improve the lives of people with disabilities with more of these inspiring programmes. 

You can find out more about AbilityMate at

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