Disabled students benefit from 3D printers

South Shore High School students are helping out thanks to a grant that bought five 3D printers.

HINGHAM – So far, they’ve made Braille alphabet tiles, word blocks, phone stands, Christmas ornaments, key chains, dreidels, dice, bolts and more, but now they’ve set their sights on more complicated 3D maps, signs, gears and circuit boards.

The students at South Shore High School are getting in touch with their creative side thanks to a grant from Attorney General Maura Healey that fully outfitted a 3D printing lab and created a new 3D engineering class for teens.

“It has given the kids a tangible skill and expanded our curriculum,” teacher Tracy Foley said.

The high school is part of South Shore Educational Collaborative, a group of Hingham schools that serves students with special needs. Foley’s students suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Foley and assistive technology specialist Crystal King applied for the grant early last year, hoping to engage older students while also providing affordable educational tools to the Community School, which serves students with complex physical and mental disabilities.

“The kids over there are in wheelchairs and many are nonverbal, so they have really complicated needs,” Foley said. “The community program would run into problems like needing an iPad stand to fit onto a particular kid’s wheelchair tray, and it would cost them thousands of dollars when, with this, we can just print them.”

Students in 3D Engineering use the computer-aided design software Onshape to design a product and run it through a software called Cura to create a G-code file, which can be read by the 3D printer. They started with simple items like dice and dreidels, and have moved onto creating products for blind and low-vision Community students.

“Getting projects that actually have a function really sparks a lot of investments in the kids,” Foley said. “Working on something they knew was going to directly help another kid was really important, and that helped a lot with the frustration that comes with creating and failing at something the first time.”

The $33,100 grant is through Healey’s program to improve access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. The program provided 10 schools with one-time grants, funded through an accessibility settlement with ATM owner and operator Cardtronics, Inc.

“I was excited there was significant interest in the grants, and it shows that there is a need,” Healey said. “As technology has improved and evolved, it has made it possible to have even greater access and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.”

The grant purchased a 3D carving machine, five 3D printers and 14 laptops for South Shore High School.

Mary Whitfill may be reached at mwhitfill@ledger.com.