Jordan Reeves was just 11 years old when she dreamed up “Project Unicorn”, a prosthetic forearm that shoots out glitter.
One of over 2000 children born each year in the United States with upper limb disabilities, Jordan is missing her left forearm; and she knows all too well the discrimination that disabled children face from their peers. That’s why she was determined to turn her disability into a superpower.
Shooting Glitter From Her Prosthetic Arm
When the preteen from Columbia, Missouri, was selected to participate in a five-day program called “Superhero Cyborgs” in San Francisco, she jumped at the chance.
The participants, children with upper limb disabilities, were invited to a huge maker space to learn about the capabilities of 3D printers, plaster casting, sewing, electronics, and thermoplastics—all with the end goal of creating the prosthetic limb of their dreams.
“What happens if we address a missing limb as a blank canvas rather than a disability?” Kate Ganim, co-director of the design firm that co-organized the “Superhero Cyborgs” event, wrote.
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Jordan Reeves took that to heart. She wanted her prosthetic limb to shoot glitter. And by the end of the five-day workshop, she had a working 3D prototype: a five-barrel glitter gun operated by a simple pull on a string.
Jordan’s mom, Jen Reeves, loves it. Although she admits that the glitter-shooting prosthetic arm is a bit messy and not always practical, she says it’s fun and “a really cool way to empower kids.”
In fact, of all the ideas that came out of “Superhero Cyborgs”, most focused on what all kids want: to have more fun.
Jordan’s Dream Takes More Steps
Jen has spent Jordan’s entire life looking for the perfect prosthetic limb for her daughter. Many children with this type of disability have an elbow joint, but Jordan does not, which results in additional requirements for prosthetics that will fit her and function correctly. Prosthetics can be expensive, too, which isn’t practical for children who outgrow them regularly.
As much as Jordan loved using the maker space at the “Superhero Cyborgs” event, she knew she wasn’t done exploring her idea for a glitter-shooting prosthetic arm. After the event, Jordan was paired up with a professional designer to take her idea to the next level.
She uses video chat weekly to keep in touch with Sam Hobish, an Autodesk designer; together, they create reiterations of the design to improve it.
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At first, Jordan said, the glitter just spilled out of the arm; so the two collaborated with Hobish’s colleagues to design a pressurized system that would shoot out the glitter more effectively. But Jordan isn’t done improving her idea—and neither is Hobish.
“I plan to work until we get something she really likes,” he said. “If that means we make new prototypes over the course of a year, I’m fine with that. I’ll keep going until someone tells me to stop.”
Jordan Finds Prominence Around the World
Jordan would like the prosthetic arm to be able to hold heavy things so she can help her mom with the groceries. And like most teens, she would like it to be able to hold a cell phone so she can use FaceTime and text her friends.
The now 17-year-old speaks at events around the country, such as schools, scout meetings, and even TEDx events. Her creation was on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and even made a tour of Europe. She and Project Unicorn have been featured on The Today Show and the NBC Nightly News.
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The buzz that the glitter-shooting arm has garnered encouraged Jordan and her mom to start a non-profit organization. Design With Us raises awareness about design and STEM education, supports designers with disabilities, and creates community among disabled youth.
As their website says, Design With Us “is founded on the belief that disabled youth have an incredible opportunity to use their lived experiences to create helpful and fun things.”
They organize workshops, both in person and virtually, to fulfill their mission. And it’s through Design With Us that Jordan partnered with BioGlitz to make sure that Project Unicorn only shoots biodegradable glitter.
“Born Just Right”
When Jordan was born, her father looked at her and said that she was “born just right.” He meant that, not only would she be right-handed, but she was perfect just the way she was. The phrase stuck with the family, and Jordan later used it as the title of her memoir.
Jordan’s achievement—but more importantly, her perseverance—teaches us to think outside the box and to recognize the beauty in everyone. It also reminds us to add joy to our lives whenever possible.
Thanks to Jordan’s creative thinking and positive attitude, hundreds of kids with a disability can now reframe their reality into a superpower.