Designing Solutions For People With Disabilities


Jewish students at CornellTech, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Berkeley, UCI, and Solomon Schechter Westchester are preparing for six TOM Makeathons ‘three-day marathons of making’ at five colleges and one high school where participants will work with people with disabilities to develop solutions for everyday challenges. The designs of the solutions will be developed further and made available for widespread use for other users worldwide.

The six Makeathons are being organized with the support of the Jim Joseph Foundation and will be the latest in activities launched by the global TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers movement (currently active in Israel, the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Australia, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Barcelona), an initiative of the Reut Group founded with the support of the Schusterman Family Foundation. TOM is a global community of makers, technology developers, and innovators who seek to solve unmet social challenges in disadvantaged communities and nations, fulfilling the traditional Jewish value of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

“TOM focuses specifically on neglected challenges that have no market solution and no government solution,” said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Group, “TOM funnels talent and resources to help people that have no other remedy. We challenge communities to create extremely affordable open-source solutions these problems. The partnership between the Jim Joseph Foundation and TOM will leap our ability to inspire and support a national network of communities that can together improve the lives of millions of people living with disabilities worldwide.”

Students are taking part in a new initiative by TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers to train young leaders as local pioneers launching TOM Communities on their campuses. In late January, 20 organizers met for the first time in Chelsea, NY and participated in an intensive 48 hour training seminar preparing them for the logistical and social responsibility of launching a TOM Community. Each will be responsible for bringing together technologists, designers, therapists from their campuses and from Israel, together with people with disabilities who will develop ideas and products that address challenges of people living with disabilities, their family members, and health-care professionals.

Bradley Schwartz of TOM:Vanderbilt shared,  “I came to Israel on BBYO’s International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI) summer program. I’ve been a Maker my whole life – when I heard about TOM I realized that this can really benefit people on campus, and makers, and the community – nothing else is going to do all that at once.”

“If you look around, we have the right people, talent, and resources to help people – but the interactions between all three aren’t happening enough. If I can help someone – I want to help. In this 72 hour event, we can help create devices that can make people’s lives better – it all starts with bringing people together.” Guy Zeltser of TOM:Northwestern

The Jim Joseph Foundation is championing the innovative efforts to mobilize young leadership by supporting the seminar training for campus organizers, supporting the development of a campus methodology and guidebook, as well as supporting each of the six Makeathons. These efforts are designed to create a scalable model to reach and engage even more young Jewish leaders, Jewish high schools, and college communities across the United States.

“This is a dynamic initiative that mobilizes young people to create change for good in an environment imbued with creativity and Jewish values,” says Barry Finestone, President and CEO of the Jim Joseph Foundation. “The Foundation is excited to partner with TOM, offering opportunities for young adults to connect with Israelis and to engage in projects that inherently reflect diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“This will be my sixth Makeathon – I was at the first Makeathon organized by TOM in Nazareth, then Tefen, the Bay Area, San Diego, and Haifa. There is something unique about creating a solution with a Need-Knower (person with a deep understanding with a disability and its challenges) and seeing their smile and satisfaction. And you know this is going to help other people – and that you took part in making that happen. This is why I am here.” explained Oded Shorer of TOM:NYC.

“I heard about TOM while on the OC Hillel Rose Project trip to Israel last Spring.” shared Elisa Phuong Khanh Tran of TOM:UCI, “TOM has the power to make huge international impact. I imagine that this is what google employee #20 felt like! I am really proud of being part of being part of this.”

TOM:Tikkun Olam Makers is a strategic initiative of the Reut Group (, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit creating and scaling models to ensure prosperity and resilience for Israel and the Jewish People. TOM was launched in 2014 as a global movement of communities, bringing together people with disabilities and Makers in order to address neglected challenges and develop open-source technological solutions for people in need around the world. Thus, fulfilling the traditional Jewish value of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

By investing in promising Jewish education grant initiatives, the Jim Joseph Foundation seeks to foster compelling, effective Jewish learning experiences for young Jews in the United States. Established in 2006, the Jim Joseph Foundation has awarded more than $440 million in grants to engage, educate, and inspire young Jewish minds to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.