MooseWorks podcast: Episode 1

From Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

Ellen, Jason, Erik and the tactile map

We talked to three public servants who used 3D printing and empathy to make their office a more inclusive and accessible place for those with visual impairments.

Duration: 16 minutes

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This podcast is a product of the Innovation Lab, read more about the Lab on its home page


[Intro music (credit: Michael Scholz)]

Jean-Philippe Veilleux: My name is Jean-Philippe Veilleux.

Kayla: And I'm Kayla Schultz.

Jean-Philippe: And you're listening to MooseWorks.

Kayla: This show will take you along the journey and through the lives of successful Canadian innovators.

[Fade out intro music]

Audio clip: "Now the challenge comes from Jason Dunkerley of Canada. And there's Brazil, Canada, Dunkerley of Canada, he closes, he sees that he could snap this on the line. And the Canadian will take the gold medal!"

Kayla: What you just heard was the sound of Jason Dunkerley taking the gold medal in the 2011, 800 meter World Championships.

Jean-Philippe: Before we get into that, first let us tell you why we're here.

Kayla: JP and I are two public servants in Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada [(ISED)] and we work here in the department's Innovation Lab.

Jean-Philippe: We get to meet all kinds of creative and innovative thinkers and we thought it would be great to somehow share these stories with you.

Kayla: And the first story that we're going to tell actually takes place right here [at] ISED.

Jean-Philippe: It's about three government employees, Ellen, Jason, and Erik, but first, let's meet Ellen.

Ellen: So my name is Ellen, Ellen Creighton, and I work here at Innovation, Science and Economic Development. I actually met Jason here at ISED when they held a going away ceremony when he was going to compete in the Rio Paralympics, so he may not remember meeting me that day, but I met him and gave him a handshake. There were tons of people here, so I was many among the faces in that crowd. After I had been to the send-off ceremony, I wanted to post a message of support for Jason on my Facebook page, so — Jason doesn't know this — so I looked up online about his background as an athlete and found an article that kind of told how many Paralympics he'd competed in or World competitions he'd competed in and how many medals he's won for Canada, and I think one of them referred to him as a medal machine for Canada.

Kayla: So, what Jason may or may not know is that we all took time to look into his background, not only is he a five time Paralympic medalist, he's also four time IPC athletic World Champion and a six time ParaPanam Games medalist.

Jean-Philippe: Yeah, hold on, I'm not done with Jasonbeing awesome, I got more. So, okay, well, Ellen was telling us a story about a few years back when Jason was actually hit by a car...

Kayla: Oh my God!

Jean-Philippe: …While he was out, you know, running, and he actually didn't give up, he made a come back even after that and went on to win more medals.

Kayla: That's incredible.

Jean-Philippe: He also volunteers on a Board for, uh, to help people with disabilities get into sport. And I think the most incredible thing is he actually donated his kidney to his wife.

Ellen: So this is the incredible person that ended up working just across the hallway from me, and so, I would be lying if I didn't say I was like intimidated by this elite athlete, who'd shown such amazing persistence and such amazing spirit and generosity to the people that he cares about.

Jason: My name is Jason Dunkerley, I was very fortunate when I was younger to have the opportunity to, with my brothers, you know growing up as kids to be encouraged to be active by our parents, and to try a range of sports, you know, from playing soccer, we would, tie a plastic grocery bad around the ball so we could hear the ball, you know, coming towards you. Often, young people who have any disability don't get a chance to participate in sport because the sport may not be accessible or people may be afraid that they could get hurt for example, but I was, like I said, very fortunate to be in an environment where that wasn't the case and, it sort of led into really, a love of sport.

Kayla: But, back to our story.

Ellen: So there was a moment… Jason sits kind of kitty corner from me in a row of cubicles and, Jason wanted to come and see me but he went into my colleague's office, or near my colleague's office instead of my office and I was like: Oh! Jason, I'm down here. And so he came down and so we talked and I offered to Jason if he'd like to kind of take a tour, a walking tour around and I could explain everything that was around and he said: Sure! and I said: When would you like to go? and he said: Now. Anyway so, we went around and the idea for thinking up something happened when we hadn't gone super far and Jason said: "I did not know the floor went this far."

Kayla: Oh wow!

Ellen: And then I realized that it would be really helpful for Jason to be able to have kind of a bird's eye view of the floor that we're on and where all our colleagues sit and where the team members sit and then that's what got me thinking. It was that moment of Jason saying I didn't know the floor went this far that kind of got me thinking, what could we do? There must be a way…

Kayla: And, basically, this is how it all began.

Jean-Philippe: Yes, but if I may I'd like to add something. I'm really trying to understand what, how Jason experiences the world, like his everyday life. Because it's really hard for someone like me, like us, who have been relying on sight for most of, well, for all of our lives.

Jason: Actually, somebody asked me this morning, you know, is my sense of hearing more developed than it would be for other people. I think it's not more developed, but it really is more just kind of using, and relying on the senses that I have. So yeah, I think the world is, it's really about sound and feel and smell, and really the other senses and…You know, the smell in the kitchen with coffee and sunlight. Life is full of great settings. The beach is a great setting for sure you know, cause you can hear the sound of water, the ocean, birds singing. Really, anything that's close to nature I would say, for sure.

Kayla: It occurred to JP and I that Jason must have been relying on his memory this whole time to navigate his way around the office.

Jason: I really would get around in the office just by going to the areas that I knew or that I would go to on a regular basis, so I had no concept of how big our group was or how spread out we were.

Jean-Philippe: Okay now, so, here's where the story gets interesting. Basically what happened is, Ellen took this information, went home with it, slept on it, thought about it, researched it, and thought some more.

Ellen: And then I thought about, okay, well, if he can't see a map, because it's two-dimensional, what about a three-dimensional solution where he could use his fingers and his sense of touch, just like he does for reading Braille, to have a map of our floor.

Kayla: Ellen reached out to her colleagues in the facilities unit and they printed out for her a large blue print of their office floor. Ellen took the blueprint map back home with her over the weekend and she broke into her kid's craft supplies.

Ellen: So, bit by bit that day, with the help of my 6 year-old daughter, we built the map. I did explain that this is for my friend, who can't see and so this is a way for him to see another way. And she got it, I think, and, she, we just had a really great time together building the map.

Jean-Philippe: And what she did with all those different textures was that she started filling in the floor plan. You can imagine she used the pipe cleaners for the men's washrooms, the cupcake holders for the women's and she used the popsicle sticks for the printer room.

Kayla: And really the goal was that, all these different areas on the floor plan could be easily identified by touch. It was a tactile map.

Jason: When she came in with this map, I mean, she said she worked on it for seven or eight hours over the weekend and, you know the amount of time and the details she put into it was just, yeah I was pretty floored actually, you know. It took me a little bit of time just to sort of kind of learn what the different, you know, textures, represented. But pretty quickly, it made sense. You know, it didn't take long to make sense at all and when it did it totally broadened my awareness of the office.

Kayla: But the story doesn't end here. Ellen, being the true innovator that she is wasn't quite happy with the tactile map that she made with her kid's craft supplies. She knew she could do something even better.

Ellen: After building the paper version of the map with all the other textures on it, it was…you could use it, but it looked like somebody got ahold of their craft supplies and made a map, a tactile map. It didn't have sort of clean lines and consistency and every office wasn't exactly the same size. And I'm a perfectionist by nature so of course I was: How can I make this perfect?

Jean-Philippe: As it turns out, ISED's Innovation Lab was the place where Ellen had her breakthrough idea.

Ellen: When Chrystia showed me the 3D printed logos, I said: Oh! I have an idea for 3D printing! I made this map, it has all different textures, I was thinking how cool would it be for us to be able to transform this into a 3D printed map. And I think it would be more predictable for the user if everything was to scale and exactly perfect.

Kayla: So instead, this is where Chrystia Chudczak, the ISED Innovation Lab Executive Director enters the story. And she connected Ellen and Jason with Erik Sherwood, the director of design and fabrication at the National Research Council's Fabrication Lab.

Jean-Philippe: And it just so happened that Erik owned his own 3D printer. So when he heard about Ellen and Jason story, well he was thrilled and he wanted to invite them in for a tour of the Fabrication Lab.


My name is Erik Sherwood, and I'm the director of design at the Design and Fabrication Services of the National Research Council. We design and build equipment that supports the research of the NRC. So we have design offices and machine shops. When I heard that someone had a need for a tactile map, a map that you could read by touching, I thought it was a phenomenal application of that technology, because I know that every floor plan is done on a CAD system and so it's just a matter of transferring that 2D floor plan data into a 3D model that you could then 3D print. And then all of a sudden you have anybody that needs to read with their fingers would have access to a map.

Jason: What it feels like, this piece of 3D printing is…there's sort of lines that indicate a corridor. The lines are very close together. Maybe a quarter of a centimeter apart, maybe less. I'm sure less than that. There's like little, almost like little hills, or little, areas of…

Ellen: It's almost like a pyramid shape.

Jason: Like a pyramid shape. Yeah, that's exactly like a pyramid shape. It's a very kind of a strong piece of, I guess, plastic. I mean there's no way that these lines are going to fall off so, they're here to stay for sure.

Ellen: Imagine if anyone could have an app where they could input their 3D floor plan from their building, and have it apply a different texture to the main locations where anyone would want to go, and that the app would spit out the pattern for them to be able to print the 3D tactile map at home.

Jason: You realize that there's kind of a world of possibilities and even for someone like myself, to really have a conception of what's it's like or what a series of streets look like. It's really exciting and a really interesting thought.

Jason: I just really want to thank Ellen for actually falling through on this one because, wherever it goes, it's something that made a huge difference for me and I think it just speaks to vision and sort of being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and actually acting on it.

Ellen: It's how else this idea could be applied in a more universal way and Jason: has a lot of ideas about how that could happen and what it could be used for and how it might help.

Jason: I think we're all guilty sometimes of sitting on our ideas. So I just encourage people to, if they have ideas, to not just sit on them but actually, you know, explore them and see where they lead.

Jean-Philippe: And that's it for our very first episode of MooseWorks.

Kayla: JP, do you think we should tell our audience why we had to just go with the name MooseWorks?

Jean-Philippe: No. Well, I don't know, just let them figure it out by themselves.

Kayla: We can't just ask them to just figure it out.

Jean-Philippe: Oh wait, I have an idea. Why don't actually ask our listeners, well you, listeners to try to find why we picked that name and what it means.

Kayla: Oh, innovative! No, I think that's a great idea and actually, youcan send it to us by visiting our website. We're on, search for ISED's Innovation Lab, and in the contact section you'll see our email, so just write: MooseWorks in the heading of your email to us and we promise that the best answers will go live.

Jean-Philippe: In the meantime, we'll be working hard to bring you more great Canadian innovation stories. And we're going to update you on Ellen, Jason, Erik's story about the tactile map and how they're hoping to make the city more accessible.

Kayla: Uh, JP they're taking this to the city?

Jean-Philippe: Stay tuned.

[Music fades in]

Kayla: We'd like to thank Ellen, and Erik for sharing their story with us. We'd also like to give a big shout out to Michael Scholz, a local artist in Ottawa, for sharing his original music. And lastly we'd like to thank the Lab team for all their continued support as we developed this podcast.

Jean-Philippe: Is that a wrap Kayla? I think that's a wrap.

Production credits

Co-produced, hosted and edited by:

Jean-Philippe Veilleux – Artist in Resident, Innovation Lab, ISED
Kayla Schultz – Communications Officer, Innovation Lab, ISED

Executive Director:

Chrystia Chudczak – Executive Director, Innovation Lab, ISED


Ellen Creighton - Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Competition Bureau of Canada, ISED
Erik Sherwood – Director of Fabrication, Fabrication Lab, National Research Council of Canada
Jason Dunkerley – Junior Analyst, Corporate Planning, ISED

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