Mel Fuller had been working for an advertising company when she realised that her job wasn’t for her. She wanted to do something that would help people; to change the world. So, like many others who’ve had this thought, she bought a 3D printer. She didn’t know how to use it. She didn’t know how it worked. She had no choice but to teach herself. Now, Mel is using these skills to improve the lives of other people while she revolutionises the orthotics industry.

After teaching herself how to 3D print, Mel opened up a community maker space called Makers Place in Leichhardt, Sydney. This is a place where people rock up and learn how to use 3D printers and other tools. At Makers Place, people could be creative and make their ideas a reality.

What she didn’t expect is that she would be inundated with Yoda heads. Once people had the skills to use 3D printers, they would get into a rut of printing pre-existing designs. They were crying out for a meaningful way to put their new skills to use.  

This is when Mel met Johan Du Plessis, a disability carer who is passionate about innovation in the disability sector.

Together, Mel and Johan hosted events called Make-a-thons, which paired people with accessibility needs to work one-on-one with a Maker who could use their skills to design and make devices. Rapidly. Cheaply. Custom-made to suit the user.

Mel and Johan had found their niche, and started up the company AbilityMate. They specialised in making ankle and foot orthoses for people who need support walking, like children with cerebral palsy. Kids, being kids, tend to grow, which makes it difficult to produce customised orthotics for them using the current method. There is often a 9 month wait for kids to see an orthotist, only to make orthotics that are up to three sizes too big, so that kids can grow into them. On top of all of this, orthoses can cost up to $5000, AND kids can go through about four of these a year!

This is the problem AbilityMate looks to solve. Using a 3D scanning process (which just uses a flashing camera to take pictures of a child’s foot), they worked with an orthotist to design the orthotics, and 3D print them. Voila! The printing process takes around 48 hours, and is much cheaper. They call them “Magic Shoes”.

Mel and Johan worked with Remarkable, a disability technology accelerator programme to build their mission surrounded by mentors. Mel and Johan also crowdfunded their idea with the help of ING Direct Dreamstarter – who supports community projects such as this one.

Now, Mel and her team are working to make this technology open source, meaning that people all around the world with a high quality printer will be able to print medical grade Magic Shoes for children, no matter where they are. It’ll take the pressure of the orthotists, doctors, and the adults paying $20,000 a year on orthoses.

More importantly, kids can have orthotics that fit them properly and can walk, run and jump like other kids their age.

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