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Custom made: IU lecturer uses his design skills to build 3-D arm for local girl

Apr 28, 2017

Description of the following video:


[Video: A girl draws pictures on a piece of paper using her left hand]

Brandon speaks: It was kind of a shock to us, I won’t kid anyone. When I saw it, I was very surprised.

[Words appear: Milet and Brandon Hall, Violet’s Parents]

It’s almost like my eyes were registering what I was seeing. I had to sit down, and no one really explained anything to us. It was just, OK, you know, here’s your kid.

[Video: Baby pictures of Violet]

Brandon speaks: It was a lot to process all in that one moment when, hey, I have my second child. Hey, where’s her other hand?

[Video: Violet flips through a sketch book]

Brandon speaks: It was a lot about bemoaning what she can’t do. And we were just thinking about all the things she can’t do or she won’t be able to do.

[Video: Violet plays a Ukulele, strumming with the taped arm where she is missing a hand]

Brandon speaks: And she’s proven us wrong.

[Video: Jon prepares to teach a class]

[Words appear: Jon Racek, Senior Lecturer at the School of Art and Design]

Jon speaks: When I was running an architectural firm and a furniture design firm, I was very fortunate in that a lot of my furniture designs were picked up by magazines, Time Magazine, the New York Times and all that.

[Video: Jon works with a student wearing a virtual reality headset and motion controller as the virtual world is projected on a classroom screen]

Jon speaks: It was great at the moment, but it was ultimately, for me, it was not very fulfilling. Luckily I was young enough that I still had time to, sort of, make a change. It’s important that students see another type of work, that design is more than just aesthetics and making things look cool, that it really can be about creating change and having some impact in people’s lives.

[Video: Jon walks across campus and enters a lab]

Jon speaks: I met Violet’s family through my kids. My two girls played basketball with Violet and I became Facebook friends with her mom and her mom put out a post asking if anyone knew anything about 3-D printing. I dabble in 3-D printing.

[Video: Jon uses tools to adjust components at a work bench]

Jon speaks: I have a couple of my own and I’ve been doing a lot with digital fabrication of all different types and so I answered the post and we met and, yeah, we were able to put this project together.

[Video: Jon works with colleague Ryan Mandell in the lab]

Jon speaks: The Mad Lab is a new facility. It’s filled with laser cutters and 3-D printers and Ryan Mandell, who runs the lab there, he was a pretty important collaborator on this project.

[Video: Computer screens show plans for 3-D printed objects]

Jon speaks: It’s always great to do these projects with someone who knows the technologies and is sympathetic towards the goal the project.

[Video: Jon test the flexibility of the 3-D printed hand, arm and joints. He sets the prototype on the work bench. Then he drives a car with hand prototype resting in the passenger seat]


[Video: Photo montage of young Violet]

Milet speaks: All the things that we’ve tried, it did seem like it just got in her way in whatever it was that she was trying to do whether it be just playing or writing or riding a bike or swimming. Finally, when she was about five we just felt like she’s just better off without one.

[Video: Jon approaches the Hall home with the hand prototype]

[Video: Violet tries the prototype on for fitting]

Jon speaks: Cool. Good, good.

Brandon speaks: It’s not falling off?

Violet speaks: No.

Jon speaks: If it’s fitting OK, we’re going to keep it the same size. After the first prototype, she redesigned it. She chose the color. She added a little star to the back of the hand. Even though it fit well, there was a lot of tinkering that still had to be done.

[Video: Time-lapse footage of Jon assembling the 3-D printed hand]

Brandon speaks: And I’d like to see her ride a bike, because I’d like to ride bikes with her before I get to old, before she gets too old and only wants to drive a car. So that would be good.

Milet speaks: Definitely playing an instrument, that’s something that she’s been interested in and this definitely will make it easier for her. To me, I’m just so blessed to have her as our little girl and she’s an amazing kid.

[Video: Jon drives to the Hall home to deliver the finished prosthetic]

Jon speaks: So we got your design and we followed it exactly.

[Video: Jon pulls out the finished arm and hand and presents it to Violet]

Violet speaks: It’s so…

[Video: Violet covers her mouth in excitement]

Violet speaks: I’m speechless.

Jon speaks: Great!

[Video: Jon helps Violet fit the hand on her arm]


[Video: Jon looks on as Violet admires her new hand, then she picks up a water bottle from a table. She then shakes hands with her father]

Jon speaks: The reason that I do the work that I do is because I want to be meaningful and I know the power of design and I know it can be, can have major impact. You know, it’s not changing world, but hopefully it’s changing. you know, someone’s life.

[Words appear: Custom Made]

[Video: The Indiana University trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]

[Words appear:]

[End of transcript]

For most of her nine years, Violet Hall has carved out her own path and defied expectations that come with being born without a right hand. Although she attempted to use prosthetics in the past, Violet and her parents, Milet and Brandon, found them to be difficult to use and eventually gave up on the idea.

But after hearing about 3-D printing at Indiana University’s annual Science Fest and seeing a website for Enabling the Future – a nonprofit organization that allows people throughout the world to use their 3-D skills and printers to create free, 3-D printed hands and arms for those in need – Violet’s mom reached out to see if anyone in Bloomington could create an arm for her daughter. Jon Racek, senior lecturer at IU’s School of Art and Design whose daughters played basketball with Violet, just happened to see the post on Facebook. A designer by trade and somewhat familiar with 3-D printing, Racek answered the call. 

With the help of the School of Art and Design’s MadLab, Racek created a customized, 3-D arm that will allow Violet to pursue her goals of playing a musical instrument, easily riding a bike and pursuing typical activities of a 9-year old.

“I think this is the most Violet has been interested in any (type of assistance) for her arm. The fact she designed it is also amazing,” Milet said. “This is such a blessing, and it’s huge for our family – that someone would reach out to help her. I hope someone hears this story and decides to help out someone like Violet.”

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