TOM: Tikkun Olam Makers is a global online marketplace of communities connecting Makers and people with disabilities developing open-source solutions for everyday challenges of people with disabilities.
TOM is a Tel Aviv–based start-up and initiative of the Reut Group, with a mission to provide folks living with disabilities— about a billion people worldwide—with affordable technology that helps them better navigate life’s challenges. Since 2014, the group has been connecting designers, developers, engineers, and makers with “need-knowers,” or those with physical, sensory, or mental limitations. “We’ve identified that there is a tremendous market failure for people with disabilities,” says Rebecca Fuhrman, TOM’s architect of inspiration, who handles the company’s marketing and communications. “Solutions are either too expensive or just simply not developed because the market [for specific physical challenges] is too small.” To address this, TOM has been engaging with the maker movement and its talent pool to bring more assistive devices to fruition.
At TOM maker-marathons, teams of volunteers work alongside local need-knowers to develop working prototypes. “Within our methodology, there is always a need-knower,” Fuhrman explains. “It’s not just about being a maker who says, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to make something,’ and assumes that they understand what someone’s challenges are.” This collaborative process ensures that the people with the disability are able to comfortably convey their issue and work with a team of makers to develop a solution. To date, there are 19 TOM communities around the world, from New York and Barcelona to Melbourne and Kazakhstan, that have hosted makeathons at various tech companies, colleges, and labs.