Hacking Diabetes Workshop


In July 2014, Chris Reilly an Art Professor at Eastern Michigan University, led a workshop at Maker Works, a maker space in Ann Arbor with adolescent diabetes experts from Mott Children's Hospital as well as a larger southeast Michigan community. In an open forum, the group discussed and learned about creative ways of managing or “hacking” type 1 diabetes.  

As Chris describes:

What comes to mind when we think of technology? Your first idea might involve a computer or smartphone, maybe a video game console. And it's true, these are examples of very sophisticated  technologies. But does that mean that technology didn't exist before digital electronics were invented? What about all of the tools that came before: hammers, wrenches, bows and arrows, frying pans, just to name a few. We can't forget about the non-digital technologies that are still so important to our daily lives.

Following this line of broadening our thinking about what technology is, we could also start to think about technologies that are based in process, rather than in physical objects. For example, is agriculture a form of technology? What about cooking? Both of these example processes make use of tools—knives, plows, stoves, etc.—that individually could be thought of as technologies. But the processes as a whole are even more impactful than the sum of their parts. Think about where we'd be without cooking or domesticated food.

As individuals with Type 1 diabetes, we have a unique perspective on the way technology controls and changes our lives, for better or worse. As in the points above, there are easy examples of conventionally defined technology that's used for diabetes management, like insulin pumps and glucose meters. But there are also many other process-based technologies like exercise programs, cooking, and managing data. Additionally, the relationship with these technologies is often very intimate for an individuals with Type 1: many of the items that are necessary to stay healthy and alive must be worn on the body, or carried around virtually at all times. This brings an element of aesthetics into technologies that are mostly charged with pure function

At the Hacking Diabetes Workshop, we met with a group of young Type 1 patients to discuss ways in which they could creatively hack the technologies they use to manage their health. By hack, we mean to use a technology for an unintended purpose. We talked about hacking the process of growing, preparing and eating food; about hacking the digital hardware and software used for diabetes management; and about hacking the style and aesthetics of these devices, through the topics of food, electronics, fashion and information.

After the workshop, Chris continued to work on his diabetes hacks and shared his progress at the We #MakeHealth Fest. The team hopes to expand this model of sharing resources and ideas for managing diabetes at future workshops and incorporating this model into the educational system provided for kids with type 1 diabetes, through group ”making” and medical visits for diabetes.

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