The Valley Fab Lab is being initiated by Whole Life Services (WLS), a provider of services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism (IDDA). This population is often ignored and denied access to many aspects of community life. Recently, the U.S. federal government mandated that individuals with disabilities receiving government-funded services must be fully integrated and involved in the community. WLS realized that a Fab Lab provides a unique opportunity for community inclusion for the IDDA population.
A Fab Lab gives people with disabilities access to inclusive public spaces along with community-integrated training in digital fabrication. Just as elementary school students can learn to operate digital fabrication equipment, so too can individuals with IDDA, if given the proper training, support, and supervision.
WLS believes the IDDA population can benefit from working in a public Fab Lab environment where training classes are integrated and where creativity is emphasized. WLS hopes that by realizing their creativity and by developing the skills to digitally fabricate products, higher-functioning individuals with IDDA could possibly join the community workforce or want to produce items for retail sale.
WLS will house The Valley Fab Lab within a local makerspace being developed by our Chamber of Commerce, The City of Sharon, a non-profit veterans’ support organization, our local Urban League, and an area artists’ group. These affiliations guarantee our Fab Lab will have a publicly accessible location as well as opportunities for artists-in-residence projects; administrative, financial, marketing, and business-development support; and patronage and assistance from leaders in our community.
After meeting several times with Jon Doctorick, Technical and Education Manager of Fab Lab Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, PA, we identified the equipment best suited for our individuals but still relevant for the general public. This equipment has been ordered but not yet received; therefore, our Fab Lab is not expected to be operational until after we receive the equipment and our Fab Lab staff have been trained. We have enlisted Fab Lab Carnegie Science Center to train our staff in early 2020.
Once we have set up The Valley Fab Lab and staff have been trained on the digital fabrication equipment, we will provide training classes to the general public as well as offer the use of our Fab Lab equipment for designing and producing items. We hope to share with and learn from the Fab Lab network, especially with regard to the pedagogy for less complex fabrications and for individuals with learning disabilities. While we are aware that many elementary schools have functioning Fab Labs, we are unaware of any Fab Lab focused on working with people with IDDA in a fully inclusive and public setting.
This is the general thread for discussing the lab; the thread is also visible on its page at https://www.fablabs.io/labs/thevalleyfablab