Enrichment, Special Needs, Stages

Spotlight: MakeGood Nola

Founded in 2021 by Noam Platt, MakeGood Nola is a nonprofit dedicated to collaborative design and fabrication, placing the needs of individuals with disabilities at the forefront of every project. Its innovative approach to accessibility and inclusivity has reshaped the landscape of assistive technology right here in New Orleans. 

At MakeGood, the ethos is clear: empower “need-knowers” (what they call a specific person who has a specific need that needs to be filled) to lead the design process, ensuring their ideas translate seamlessly into reality. Platt emphasizes this collaborative approach, stating, “We work with people directly on their ideas and see the things that they know they already need into reality.” 

Frustrated by the lack of tailored accommodative solutions, Platt honed his abilities as a healthcare architect and embarked on a journey to bridge the gap between design and disability. “I realized that as an architect, we actually have all of the skills we need to be great assistive and adaptive designers,” he recounts. “We have the project management skills, the design thinking skills, the communication skills, and the interdisciplinary working skills.” Despite its humble beginnings, it’s clear this organization is committed to addressing real-world challenges with tangible solutions. 

Another pivotal member of the MakeGood team is Philip Dunham, the Head of Fabrication and Design. Despite facing personal challenges as a manual wheelchair user due to a spinal cord injury, Dunham’s passion for assistive technology shines through his inventive designs. Initially a valued client, Dunham has immersed himself in learning various computer software and managing multiple 3D printers over the past six months. Platt and Dunham work very closely on a daily basis to deliver innovative projects, such as Dunham’s 3D-printed wheelchair ramp and his iPhone holder for quadriplegic individuals. While they may make a small team, MakeGood is eager to bring on more design students and volunteers to help fuel its mission. 

Noam Platt (left) and Philip Dunham (right)

Through educational initiatives, including design thinking classes and adaptive making workshops, MakeGood empowers individuals and organizations to harness digital design and fabrication tools. By democratizing access to technology and knowledge, MakeGood fosters a sense of agency and curiosity within the Nola community, enabling them to actively shape their environment. The organization’s educational outreach extends to local schools, social action groups, and commercial design entities, fostering a community-driven approach to problem-solving. 

“Our real mission, and the real mission of our partner organizations, is to not just make stuff for people,” Platt says. “It’s to teach people how to do this work, it’s to teach students that they can make this stuff for their community very simply, and here’s how you do it.”

Its impact extends beyond the borders of New Orleans, collaborating with international organizations like Makers Making Change and Tikkun Olam Makers to supply open-source adaptive technology. As Platt highlights, “We’re providing assistive technology for people at 1/7 the price they would pay to go buy it somewhere.” This affordability, coupled with customized solutions, ensures that individuals receive tailored assistance without financial barriers.

Regarding the organization’s finances, however, donations go a long way, as all funds go toward buying equipment and materials for projects. Platt and his team heavily rely on 3D printers due to their affordability and accessibility, allowing anyone, including clinicians and therapists, to use them. “Anything they can dream up can be made. We don’t have to rely on the commercial market,” Platt emphasizes.

Looking towards the future, Platt envisions expansion and deeper integration within the community. Plans include establishing a dedicated office space to facilitate larger-scale operations and fostering better partnerships with academic institutions, healthcare providers, and local businesses. Moreover, MakeGood aspires to transform societal perceptions of disability, advocating for a more inclusive society, where accessibility is not just a concept but a fundamental aspect of everyday life.

“There’s a big desire to do a [Mardi Gras] parade by and for the disabled community,” says Platt. “There’s no reason why the city shouldn’t be embracing this community. We’re all about celebrating each other.” And they don’t want to just stop with Mardi Gras. Platt explains, “We want to see New Orleans grow in not only being a tourist capital but in specifically catering to disabled people. It’s not only the right thing to do, but this has huge economic benefits too.”

Through its unwavering dedication to inclusivity and empowerment, MakeGood is paving the way for a more accessible and equitable future, one project at a time. With each endeavor, MakeGood serves as a testament to the profound impact grassroots initiatives can have on communities. It is constantly reaffirming its commitment to realizing this vision, demonstrating that through collective effort and ingenuity, barriers can be dismantled, and opportunities can flourish for everyone. After all, it’s like Platt says: “All great things start at the kitchen table.”

For more information, visit makegood.design.

This article was originally published in June 2024.

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