Creative minds are coming together in the Agility Innovation Zone to build adaptive and assistive tools that help remove barriers for people with disabilities. These inventions can make a real difference in one’s quality of life, making tasks which may seem ordinary to some less challenging for those with disabilities.
Made possible in 2015 thanks to a philanthropic gift from the late Dr. Cor Van Raay (LLD ’15), Agility is an innovation and entrepreneurship program that is funded entirely through grants and generous donations. Through steady donor support, the Innovation Zone, which is a dedicated makerspace on campus that provides students access to equipment, technologies and resources to bring their innovative ideas to life, opened in 2019.
“Thanks to donor funding, the programs, events and supports offered through Agility are open to all students, faculty and staff at ULethbridge, at no cost,” says David Hinger (BFA ’03, MEd ’07), executive director, Teaching Centre & Agility.
Activities help to build a creative discovery atmosphere, where ideas can be explored in a risk-free environment and students can develop an entrepreneurial mindset. The possibilities are endless with access to a wide variety of tools – from 3D printers to vinyl cutters to sewing machines, airbrush spray paint and more. The space has become a haven for those who want to design and build a new project, pursue a new hobby and/or create a new business.
Several collaborations have been born from the space, including partnerships with Alberta Health Services, Makers Making Change and local non-profits such as AdaptABLE Outdoors looking to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities. Students are often brought into the design challenges through integrated coursework in partnership with several University departments.
“That’s when the students learn design thinking processes. They learn how to apply those skills or learn the different technology in the space and apply it to building adaptive technology,” says Layla Lahiji (BMgt ’19), Agility program coordinator.
These technological innovations have already been shared with various organizations to gather feedback from users on their functionality. If there is a flaw in the design, it comes back and then it’s time to try again. It’s all part of the entrepreneurial process,” says Kevin Roelofs, Agility Information Zone coordinator.
“If someone can make something in Agility that would help someone down the way … it could be huge,” says Roelofs.
“It stands to benefit a lot of people and I’ve already seen that happen through the smallest system devices. Whether it’s getting them playing family game night together with a card holder or a dice roller or a small electronic controlling car, or something that could be used on a ski hill or in your kitchen, there are a lot of good ideas coming out of here.”
Through these opportunities, students are building real-world solutions that can generate a huge impact in their own career paths as well as the lives of others. “We have success in Agility with our entrepreneurship programming, which is really focused on students creating businesses and I think that’s fantastic,” says Hinger. “But there’s also opportunity for our students who want to have a social impact and want to make the world a better place. And that’s really exciting for us.”