Gathering e-NABLE’s Superheroes Under One Roof | EnableCon 2019

Original email sent to Ivan from Richard asking for help to create a prosthetic finger.

In December of 2011, a carpenter in South Africa reached out from 10,000 miles across the world through an email to a stranger to ask for help. Hours later, they were collaborating together to design a single replacement finger for the carpenter who had lost his fingers of his dominant hand in a woodworking accident. They had no idea that they were creating what would ultimately be the catalyst that would lead to a movement called “e-NABLE” with thousands of people all over the world working together across the internet to help others create 3D printed hands for people in need…nearly 8 years later.

Ivan Owen working with Richard Van As through skype and the internet to collaborate on a design for a prosthetic finger.

While they were able to accomplish a great deal of innovation and collaboration through emails, text chats, and video calls…the real magic happened when they were finally able to meet in person. Spending hours together in the same place, experiencing those ah-ha moments at the same time, and really inspecting each other’s designs by turning them over in their hands is what led to sparks of inspiration and conversations that just can’t be replicated by video or photo sharing.

Ivan and Richard working together for the first time in person in 2012.
Richard (The Carpenter) and Ivan (The Artist and Prop Maker) finally working together in person in South Africa in 2012 after a year of collaboration via text, skype and voice chats.

For thousands of e-NABLE Volunteers who are spread across the world, we only know what it is like to communicate via the screen, oftentimes with choppy internet connections that result in the participants on the other end only hearing every other syllable even on the best of days. We spend countless hours typing back and forth trying to explain our new designs or holding them up in front of video capturing devices in hopes that what we are showing and explaining to our fellow volunteers is coming across in the way we want it to.

Over the past 3 years, volunteer Maria Esqueala, founder of the Enable Alliance (a non-profit 501c3) has spent countless hours organizing a yearly meetup and retreat for any of our e-NABLE Volunteers who would like to attend. She named it “EnableCon.

During these conferences, e-NABLE Volunteers from all over the world are invited to come together in the same place, at the same time to finally get to experience collaborating and sharing with each other in person. While this year’s EnableCon was a smaller gathering, she hopes to work with the community to create a larger event in 2020 that will allow even more of our growing e-NABLE Family to join in!

EnableCon 2019 attendees posing for a group photo.
Some of the EnableCon 2019 participants representing numerous e-NABLE Chapters from around the world.

Last weekend, I was reminded of how incredible it is to step foot into a room filled with others who are working alongside you to bring hope and light into the world who have until that moment, been faces and voices and text messages on your screens.

While the creation of 3D printed hands and arms as well as other assistive tools that have been given to the world through the e-NABLE Community is itself amazing and beautiful…the reality that we have a global movement of thousands of incredible people who are putting their religious, cultural, political and personal differences aside to work together to create positive change in the world… is the most amazing piece of this story.

e-NABLE has no borders.

It never has.

A new e-NABLE Design being shared at the Rep Rap Festival.

That first moment when a carpenter in South Africa reached out through the internet to an artist in the USA to ask for help, coupled with my insatiable desire to make sure their story was told along with the stories of those who followed, unbeknownst to me at the time, would end up sparking a movement of international collaboration and kindness unlike anything else the world has ever seen.

I never imagined that this project would result in my one day standing in a room filled with fellow makers, dreamers and beautiful people from numerous countries around the globe who had taken that message of kindness from this story and decided to also dedicate their lives to “Giving the World a Helping Hand.”

e-NABLE Volunteers working together during EnableCon 2019
e-NABLE Volunteer Dean Rock (e-NABLE Dominican Republic) teaches Brazillian volunteer Luisa M. Arruda, how to assemble one of the designs he has been working on.

“Last weekend I had the opportunity to be present at Enablecon, and what I felt was that E-Nable as an idea is a light source that crosses many oceans and arrives at the right time for those who need it. Whether you are a supplier, a technician, a designer or even a person who wants a prosthetic limb.

E-Nable is LIGHT given to people.

And that light is materialized by the hands of countless, organized, industrious, disciplined, indefatigable volunteers who work as little bees to build and offer a “beehive” full of prosthetic devices.

Most important on this journey are the people… and besides starting partnerships with other professionals, I was able to listen to many inspiring stories.

I believe we can give much more to the world when we see ourselves through the eyes of others.”

– Luisa M. Arruda, Brazilian e-NABLE Volunteer, Fashion Designer and PhD Textile Engineering Student/University of Minho Portugal
e-NABLE volunteers working together and learning about new designs for 3D printed hands.
e-NABLE Volunteers James Quilty (Thai Reach chapter), Bob Rieger and Dean Rock (e-NABLE Dominican Republic) examine one of the new designs shared at EnableCon 2019

“All of us belong to a community of digital humanitarians who largely work together virtually.  If you are not a member of a chapter, you tend to know your colleagues as a collection of pixels on weekly video chats and meetings. 

But nothing beats getting to know the flesh and blood human with whom you are working!  

EnableCon was a great way to meet, learn, socialize and share best practices and cutting edge technologies. 

One hour physically discussing subjects with your colleagues can be worth many weeks of looking at their images on a computer screen.”

e-NABLE Volunteer, Bob Rieger
Artwork from notes about EnableCon 2019 from volunteer Ben Rubin.
Artwork and notes created during EnableCon 2019 by artist and e-NABLE Volunteer Ben Rubin.

It was incredible to see so many different people, ideas, and technologies all coming together at EnableCon.  It was my first experience, so I wasn’t sure quite what I was in for.

We saw robots controlled by the mind, circuit boards made out of paperclips, and bio printers designing living cells all under one roof.  Perhaps most impressive, we had the next generation of superheroes leading the way. 

It was exciting to see students empowered both by a passion for the cause and by their own experience using e-NABLE devices.  With a team like this working together, the inspiration we can share becomes as important as the devices in changing the abilities of people around the world.

Ben Rubin, e-NABLE Volunteer
e-NABLE Volunteers working together during EnableCon 2019 with a 3D printed prosthetic hand.
e-NABLE Volunteers Chad Coarsey and Jeremy Simon from the USA, Christian Silva from Colombia and Lars Thalmann from Germany, participate in a discussion with e-NABLE Dominican Republic volunteer and designer Dean Rock during EnableCon 2019.

“EnableCon 2019 was small but very good in many ways.

A cutting edge bio-printing demo (by Christian Silva) and talk, FDA overview (brilliant inclusion!), and the opportunity to see, feel and touch, the latest of devices were all great.

For me, most of all was the chance to really meet and talk with an international presence of so many interesting people. Future collaborations bode well.

Finally, the awareness that came with noting how important it is to include our recipients at every possible level of design, build and use of the devices we make will have a far better result in longer term usage than if we we just provide the device. I think I realized this before, but the conference really brought the point home on a variety of levels.”

Dean Rock, e-NABLE Volunteer/Designer working in The Dominican Republic
e-NABLE Volunteers working together during EnableCon 2019 with a 3D printed prosthetic hand.
e-NABLE Volunteer Rodrigo Savage from Mexico, explains to James Quilty from our e-NABLE Chapter in Thailand (Thai Reach), how the Pulgarcita designed in Mexico works.

“At EnableCon, we formed deep connections and amazing friendships. This has fueled new collaborations between cross-functional teams across nations, further improving e-Nable and ultimately helping the community as a whole.”

Rodrigo Savage, Rodrigo Savage, Founder & CTO of Intero / e-NABLE Volunteer Mexico

At this year’s EnableCon, I watched my fellow e-NABLE volunteers and friends from different countries passing their designs around and seeing their eyes light up when they were able to finally touch and turn them over or really investigate how those designs worked.

e-NABLE Volunteers examining a new design for a 3D printed prosthetic hand
e-NABLE Volunteer Luisa M. Arruda (Brazil) takes a photo of a design being passed around by Christian Silva (Colombia) and Lars Thulmann (Germany) at EnableCon 2019
e-NABLE Volunteers working together during EnableCon 2019 with a 3D printed prosthetic hand from Bionic Glove Project
e-NABLE Volunteer Christian Silva (Colombia) takes a closer look at the new flexible arm design from Chad Coarsey and Marty Cheng (USA – Bionic Glove Project.)

Hearing them sharing their ideas for improvements and getting to witness the joy on their faces when their fellow volunteers encouraged them and gave them kudos for the work they had been doing, was nothing short of magical.

e-NABLE Volunteer Melvin Cruz giving a presentation at Enablecon 2019
Melvin Cruz, Founder, e-NABLE Guala (Honduras) and Lead Program Developer, Rochester e-NABLE Lab, gives an overview of the work being done by e-NABLE Guala.
e-NABLE Volunteer Dean Rock giving a presentation at EnableCon 2019
e-NABLE Volunteer and designer Dean Rock, (e-NABLE Dominican Republic) shares his most recent designs with the group.
e-NABLE Volunteer Cam Haight sharing his design for a bow holder at EnableCon 2019
Cam Haight, e-NABLE Volunteer, recipient/user, designer and co-founder of Different Heroes, shares his latest design for a 3D printed bow holder for children with limb differences.

EnableCon felt more like a family reunion than a conference.

Meeting people you have been working with for years through a screen or broken and garbled voices due to lack of bandwidth… in person… feels like you are finally all “home.”

e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019

“It was all like a big family meeting. A family that you only know from pictures. A family that is spread out all over the world…but still united by so much!

We all share the same passion, we are all happy the most when we see our kids go “nuts“ with their new arm or hand.

It was a chance to show the community that there’s so much more to do in a standardized industrial way, so that we can do our work way more efficiently.”

Lars Thalmann – Co-Founder of e-NABLE Germany
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019

“My favorite part was when I got to eat and talk in the microphone and shoot my bow with my hand but my FAVVVVOritest part was bowling with my brothers and with Jen and my mommy and daddy!”

Cam Haight age 7 – Co-founder of Different Heroes, e-NABLE Volunteer, recipient and designer.

“I enjoyed most being around a network of people that are more like family, and finally getting to meet some of those people face to face. I have to agree with Cam though, that bowling was quite fun! And the BioEngineering was really cool as well! Can I pick like… all of the things?? Maybe it would be easier to say what I didn’t like… the traffic! Haha!!

Sarah Haight – Co-founder of Different Heroes, e-NABLE Volunteer and designer.
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019

“Inspiring, interesting and quirky people, collaboratively combining curiosity, compassion and creativity for the greater good.  What’s not to like?”

Jon Schull, co-founder of e-NABLE
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019

“This community has been so beautiful. They’ve already started sharing access to 3D scanners, and started planning follow up trips to help more people faster. The collaborations are profoundly important.

My favorite memory is of Cam and Sarah presenting their family story and realizing that Cam and our community are still learning what we can do working together.”

Maria Esquela – Founder of Enable Alliance and e-NABLE Volunteer
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019 and the East Coast Rep Rap Festival
e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019
An inspirational quote written on a hand

In November of 2012, while Ivan was on a plane traveling from Seattle to South Africa to meet Richard for the first time to work in person, I wrote a quote on my hand and asked others to write their own encouragement so they could take a photo and share it as we wished them luck on their journey.

This quote has stuck with me all of these years and really does feel like it is the exact message that I tried to send out into the world as his plane took off into the wild blue skies of uncertainty and one that defines exactly what e-NABLE is.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, commited citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

e-NABLE isn’t about 3D printed hands.
e-NABLE isn’t about 3D printing at all.

“e-NABLE” is kindness, love, and light…giving hope to each other and to others. e-NABLE reminds us that we can all work together to change the world for the better.

Whether we are spread out across the ocean communicating from behind a glass screen or trying to understand each other through language barriers or standing in the same room, under one roof…we are all “Enabling The Future.”

e-NABLE Volunteers enjoying time together during EnableCon 2019 and the East Coast Rep Rap Festival
Jen Owen (founder of and co-founder of e-NABLE), Cam Haight (co-founder of Different Heroes, e-NABLE Volunteer/designer and recipient) and Maria Esquela (Founder of Enable Alliance and e-NABLE Volunteer) pose for a photo before entering the East Coast Rep Rap Festival during EnableCon 2019

EnableCon 2019 was a jam-packed weekend full of innovation, collaboration, education and bonding that we would love to see grow into a much larger conference for next year!

If you are interested in helping us to plan or you are a company or individual who would like to potentially sponsor the event and help us get more creative minds into one location at the same time, please email me at

If you were unable to attend, but are interested in seeing some of the presentations and talks that were shared, we were blessed to have Jeremy Simon from 3D Universe there who documented as much as he could on video for those who were unable to be there in person. You can find those videos HERE.

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