1 Introduction

Digitalization is omnipresent. It hits everyone and touches each area of social and societal life. No matter what age, education or gender – everyone notices digitalization, because social relationships, actions and communications are constantly shifted into digital media. But digitalization is not only a purely technological change. It is a social transformation process [1], which is marked by technological innovation as well as the configuration of new social practices. Digitalization thus triggers social and societal changes which leads to opportunities but also risks. This is the reason why digitalization provides on the one hand the opportunity to a self-fulfilled participation and on the other hand also leads to risks of (digital) exclusion. Especially those people, who struggle against already existing dimensions of social and societal inequalities (age, gender, impairment, education), are threatened by dependencies, opportunities for manipulations and (digital) exclusion [2]. Moreover, they do not benefit from the opportunities of digitalization and they cannot design these processes actively. This is the reason why they are threatened by digital exclusion. Through this a “digital divide” arises, which divides people, who benefit from digitalization from those, who do not. In order to counteract this, there are already existing places of digital inclusion as well as social practices. One example is the “Mini-FabLab”, the research project “Emscher-Lippe hoch 4” (EL4) [3] has installed.

EL4 discusses the challenges of digitalization in the Emscher-Lippe (EL) region - the northern part of the federal state “North Rhine-Westphalia” in Germany with cities like Bottrop, Gelsenkirchen and Recklinghausen. EL is a severely disadvantaged region in structural change and is thus located there on purpose. With about 1.1 million people living there, it is a region in Germany that is mostly at risk of downward swing [4]. Every fifth person lives in poverty and it has the highest unemployment rate in North Rhine-Westphalia [5]. Apart from these relatively negative aspects, it is at the same time also a location for technological and innovational research. There are universities, research institutions as well as learning and demonstrating experience laboratories, which offer technological and social innovations. These innovations are used by EL4 to handle the introduced challenge of digital exclusion in the EL region. To do so, EL4 organized diverse activities in the practice field “digital inclusion” and focuses especially on learning and demonstrating experience laboratories. Thereby, its emphasis lays on the empowerment of disadvantaged people. Moreover, to support their participation at the workplace as well as in society, EL4 operates with a unique inclusive approach called “Mini-FabLab” - an open space, which is especially designed for people with disabilities in a sheltered workshop in the EL region. For this, already existing experiences made during other projects on which the project partners have worked on, have been incorporated. Examples are the FabLab of the Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences (HRW) in Bottrop [6], PIKSL Laboratories in Düsseldorf, Bielefeld, Kassel and Dortmund [7] and the “SELFMADE” MakerSpace in Dortmund [8]. These experiences were transferred into a new innovative and inclusive approach, whereby the strengths were covered and the weaknesses were improved.

1.1 Analysis of Strong and Weak Points of Places of Digital Inclusion

In the following, strengths and weaknesses of three other places of digital inclusion will be presented. At the same time, the Mini-FabLab will always be in focus to show on the one hand its learnings and on the other hand its improvements from these places. At first the paper refers to Bottrop’s FabLab, then to the PIKSL Laboratories and finally to the “SELFMADE” MakerSpace in Dortmund.

Bottrop’s FabLab [6] was established in 2012 and is located at the HRW - an university with technological focus in the EL region. It has an area over 600 qm and a co-working space with 150 qm. The FabLab is an open space, where different technological devices and machines are available for everyone - the equipment reaches from computers and tablets over 3D-printers, laser-cutters and vinyl-cutters up to sensors, drones and robots. In the FabLab, visitors find different areas. There is for example one large 3D-printing area with different 3D-printers, an area with a laser-cutter, one with VR-devices and vinyl-cutters and a centralized workplace with computers to convert ideas in 3D-printable and laser-cuttable files. The FabLab offers visitors the chance to use all these devices and machines for free. Thereby they get support by makers if they have any questions in the handling or about the equipment. To do so, the FabLab has over 100 events per year and is therefore one of the most active FabLabs internationally. In “open evenings” and “open project days”, visitors have the opportunity to learn about FabLabs in general as well as to work on their own ideas. Supported by makers, everyone can develop their own 3D-printed prototypes and solutions, independent from their (digital) competence level. Thus, this FabLab is open for students, entrepreneurs, citizens as well as for people with disabilities. Because people with disabilities did not visit it as often as others did, EL4 decided to face this missing interest of visiting the FabLab. For this, several events took place in the Mini-FabLab before the actual initiation of it. This started with sensibilizing events for pedagogical personnel, who work in the sheltered workshop. They received information about FabLabs in particular, as well as specific ones, matched to people with disabilities (information about the opportunities of a FabLab for people with disabilities). After the sensibilizing events for pedagogical personnel, workshops for people with disabilities took place. During these workshops, diverse digital devices and machines like vinyl-cutters, 3D-printers, 3D-scanners, VR-devices and 3D-Doodle pens were presented and used in a learning-by-doing approach after a short introduction to basic functionalities and processes. Together with makers being engaged in the project, people with disabilities started to develop first 3D-printed assistive devices. They quickly became enthusiastic about all the opportunities and asked shortly after the events for further workshops. Therefore, it became clear: something like this is needed for people with disabilities. This is the reason why one project partner (Diakonie) got the idea to create a space directly in one of their sheltered workshops, where people with disabilities can develop 3D-printed products and assistance systems on their own for their workplace as well as for their everyday life. Thus, EL4 installed a so called “Mini-FabLab” in a sheltered workshop in Bottrop (in the “Rheinbabenwerkstatt”). Additionally, to the problem of missing interest, the Mini-FabLab also reduces barriers, Bottrop’s FabLab has to deal with the university. The arrival, staircases, doors, tables, equipment etc., which are not barrier-free, also hinder people with disabilities from visiting Bottrop’s FabLab. With its location directly at people with disabilities’ workplace, the Mini-FabLab reduces such barriers and offers people with disabilities the possibility to join the maker environment. Besides this, the Mini-FabLab learned from Bottrop’s FabLab in technological aspects about 3D-printing, 3D-scanning, VR-devices etc. These high-level competences were incorporated in the Mini-FabLab. Moreover, Bottrop’s FabLab is also locally and internationally networked with other learning and demonstrating experience laboratories and makers. This broad network is also important for the Mini-FabLab. Therefore, the Mini-FabLab can learn about their strategies in networking.

PIKSLFootnote 1 Laboratories are open spaces, where people with and without disabilities come together to develop social and digital innovations [7]. In contrast to Bottrop’s FabLab, it is not located at an university, but in the center of districts in Germany, e.g. in the federal state North Rhine-Westphalia in big cities like Düsseldorf, Bielefeld and Dortmund as well as in the federal state Hesse in Kassel. Moreover, its provider is “In der Gemeinde leben gGmbH” (IGL). This is a provider which is supported by two social welfare organizations (Diakonie and Bodelschwinghsche Stiftung Bethel). The room itself is colorful and barrier-free. Moreover, PIKSL Laboratories offer technologies like computers, tablets and 3D-printers. In the workplace area, visitors can use their own computers, smartphones, tablets, but also the ones situated by PIKSL. To do so, the room is designed as a big workplace area with barrier-free tables and chairs, workplaces without technologies and workplaces with technologies. The first impression reminds one of an internetcafé, but it is more than this - it is a place to meet each other, to try out digital technologies and to design digital products for free, with the option of support. Thereby, the aim is that people with and without disabilities adapt digital competences and that companies as well as organizations were sensibilized in designing inclusive and barrier-free offerings. To do so, people with disabilities are regarded as experts, because they are the ones, who run courses like using the internet, social media etc. The offerings are therefore user-centralized and less complex. This user-centralized approach, as well as defining people with disabilities as experts, are the biggest strengths of PIKSL Laboratories and acted thus as a model for the Mini-FabLab. This is the reason why people with disabilities were involved in designing the Mini-FabLab, but also in other processes concerning the Mini-FabLab. The challenge of restrictions in the Mini-FabLab can thus only be removed by people with disabilities, because they know best about their needs. In doing so, the barriers that people without disabilities did not see, can be solved. The Mini-FabLab learned in this aspect from PIKSL Laboratories and became what it is now only through their user-centralized approach. Another improvement is the development to an inclusive PIKSL-network. The first PIKSL Laboratory was opened in Düsseldorf [9] and after its success, thanks to a wide public attention, further interchangeable PIKSL Laboratories (in Bielefeld, Kassel, Dortmund) followed. Becoming such a big network is also the aim of the Mini-FabLab, because the Diakonie realized that it is important to integrate such rooms in sheltered workshops. This is the reason why the Mini-FabLab continually works on it, for example with organized events (see Sect. 2.3), to be connected to the maker-scene. But this is in process and therefore not yet a strength. On the other hand, PIKSL Laboratories also face the problem of the journey, as visitors have to come there on their own, whereas in the Mini-FabLab, the visitors are directly on site. As already mentioned above in the part of Bottrop’s FabLab, the journey to PIKSL Laboratories can not be as barrier-free as to the Mini-FabLab, so that the Mini-FabLab reduces such barriers and thus opens people with disabilities the opportunity to join the maker environment.

The “SELFMADE” MakerSpace in Dortmund was the best practice example for the development of the Mini-FabLab. It is a space that was developed throughout a project (SELFMADE) that was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Moreover, it is also located in an outdoor workplace of a sheltered workshop in the inner city of Dortmund, close to the main railway station [10]. Due to its location in an outdoor workplace of a sheltered workshop, the MakerSpace is not only used as a MakerSpace. It is turned twice a day into a dining room for people with disabilities working there [11]. But as a MakerSpace, it also offers barrier-free technologies like 3D-printers and laptops for free - like the other two places of digital inclusion mentioned above. Thereby the “making” permeates the everyday working tasks of people working there [11]. The room itself is an inclusive space with wheelchair-accessible furniture, moveable IT-stations, shelves with 3D-printed objects and workplaces that are equipped with tables and chairs as well as some with computers. The MakerSpace thus offers a large area, in which primarily 3D-printable assistive tools are developed for people with disabilities together with them. Basis of this is the “Inclusive Participative Action Research” and a design approach [11]. Moreover, the aim is the support of people with disabilities’ participation and self-determination [12]. Therefore, the “Design Thinking” approach [13], which centers on problems people with disabilities have, is used to develop 3D-printed solutions to solve their problems. Exactly this idea of a problem-centralized 3D-printing seemed also suitable for the Mini-FabLab, especially when people with disabilities have problems at their workspace or everyday living environment. The Design Thinking approach is thus one of the main best practice examples that the Mini-FabLab integrated in its strategy. On top of this, also the five levels of the self-determination concerning the 3D-printing process that Bosse and Pelka in their article described [12], were integrated into the Mini-FabLab (see Sect. 2.2). The Mini-FabLab thus learned much from strategies of this MakerSpace. To empower people with disabilities, to be more low-threshold and to illustrate that every place can become a place for inclusion, EL4 had to locate the Mini-FabLab at a sheltered workshop.

The Mini-FabLab in Bottrop learned from these three places of inclusion in different aspects. Referring to Bottrop’s FabLab, the Mini-FabLab learned about the necessity of accessibility. All kinds of barriers make it harder for people with disabilities to visit such a place and use all the digital equipment in there. This is the reason why short distances are as important as barrier-free equipment. In this context, the usability became also clear. Especially in the collaboration with people with disabilities, the design of the room and equipment has to be geared to meet their needs. To ensure people with disabilities’ usability and accessibility, it is essential to regard them as experts - like PIKSL Laboratories did. In contrast to people without disabilities, they know exactly about their needs. They can express what kind of equipment needs to be adjusted so that they can use it. An user-centralized approach, like the Design Thinking in the SELFMADE MakerSpace, that integrates people with disabilities is therefore necessary. It focuses on the problems people with disabilities have to deal with in their everyday life and workspace and tries to cure this by developing digital solutions. Thereby it is important that people with disabilities do not only get access to digital devices and machines, but get rather empowered to use it. Makers, pedagogical personnel as well as people with disabilities, who can support others, are therefore in foreground to empower people without or less digital competences in developing their own digital solutions. But before this, people with disabilities have to be sensitized about all the opportunities of such a place (see events like “open evenings” and “open project days” in Bottrop’s FabLab). Sensitization thus improves people with disabilities’ interest in digitalization and weakens their fear about it. Especially the illustration of opportunities concerning inclusion, turned out to be particularly useful. Furthermore, the analysis of the three places mentioned above shows that networking is very helpful to be connected to other makers and places of digital inclusion. With such a network, it is possible to exchange ideas constantly, to adapt the equipment to new digital developments as well as to gain interest of other visitors. In this context, a continuously exchange to other places can also show, where an establishment of such places is possible. These learnings about accessibility, usability, the role of people with disabilities as experts, the user-centralized approach, empowerment, sensitization and networking, were the main points that influenced the establishment of the Mini-FabLab. As a result of this, the following chapter shows how these were implemented in the Mini-FabLab.

2 Mini-FabLab

Diakonisches Werk Gladbeck-Bottrop-Dorsten was founded in 1929 and acts with its sheltered workshops according to the diaconal guiding principle of “just participation” to enable employees to live as self-determined as possible. The sheltered workshops of the Diakonisches Werk Gladbeck-Bottrop-Dorsten (“Bottroper Werkstätten”), built in 1976 are equipped with over 40 years of experience in the production of contract work and the provision of services. Moreover, “Bottroper Werkstätten” offer jobs and qualifications in various occupational fields, e.g. agriculture, housekeeping, electrical installation or nursing assistants. There, the main task is to coach employees with disabilities to participate in working life and to support their individual path. Thus, people, who are currently unable to work in the free economy due to their disability, maintain a job through the “Bottroper Werkstätten”. By doing so, the “Bottroper Werkstätten” try to stabilize the overall personality, to motivate and to maintain people with disabilities’ performance and employability.

“Bottroper Werkstätten” have six different sheltered workshops, where people with disabilities get the opportunity to participate in working live. One sheltered workshop is the above mentioned “Rheinbabenwerkstatt”, which offers 287 workplaces for people with intellectual disabilities. Its main focus lays on its special offer of workplaces for people with disabilities who are not able, not yet able or not yet able again to be employed in the general labour market. Moreover, the “Rheinbabenwerkstatt” tries to stabilize, expand and maintain the individual abilities and opportunities of people with disabilities. So, the main goal is, to provide vocational education and to support personal development and the empowerment of people with disabilities’ participation at work, according to German law (see SGB IX §136 ff.) as well as to the UN Disability Law compliant. One opportunity to do so, is Bottrops’ first MakerSpace in a sheltered workshop, the Mini-FabLab in the “Rheinbabenwerkstatt”, which was official opened in July 2019.

2.1 The Room

In contrast to the three spaces mentioned in Sect. 1.1, the Mini-FabLabFootnote 2 is located in one old, converted storage room of the Rheinbabenwerkstatt in Bottrop. This should show that it is possible to integrate something like this almost everywhere, if some changes are made. Therefore, there are some restrictions, e.g. in the (universal) design of the room, that need to be eliminated. This restriction means that the Mini-FabLab has to design the room in such a way that it can be used by as many people with disabilities as possible without further adjustments. This is a main challenge, because people with disabilities have different kinds of impairment that leads to different demands on the room. The room has to be wheelchair-accessible, as well as designed with equipment that can be used by people with spasticity, visual impairment, hearing impairment and by people with intellectual disabilities. As a result of this, the Mini-FabLab was designed and created together with people with disabilities working at the Rheinbabenwerkstatt. The Mini-FabLab integrated people with disabilities as expertes directly from the beginning. As already mentioned above, this was learned by PIKSL. Therefore, the concept of the room is primarily designed by the wood workshop of the Rheinbabenwerkstatt. To create the Mini-FabLab, the entire equipment of the room had to be removed first. As a second step, it was checked if some of this equipment can still be used. It turned out that the existing old tables, which can be adjusted in height by cranks, only needed new surfaces. Thereby, it was very important that the tables are designed in such a way that they can be used by everyone.

As in Bottrop’s FabLab, in PIKSL Laboratories and in the SELFMADE Maker-Space, the Mini-FabLab also consists of a main workplace. It has three different workplaces, which are marked by characters (A,B,C) to ensure clear identification. The tables of these workplaces are fitted with a table socket, as well as with a screen, a mouse and a keyboard (see Fig. 1). To keep order, a Silhouette Cutter is used to design letterings and pictograms. Especially pictograms can be used for people without reading ability and attached to the appropriate places. Besides this, already printed objects are presented in shelves as the SELFMADE MakerSpace did. In contrast to this MakerSpace, the Mini-FabLab uses various height-adjustable shelves. The idea behind is the same - the objects that are presented in the shelves can be used for demonstrations and for hands-on experience.

Fig. 1.
figure 1


On the opposite side, a much smaller 3D-printer work area than in Bottrop’s FabLab has been set up (see Fig. 2). Three 3D-printers are positioned here. The Mini-FabLab benefited from Bottrop’s FabLab weaknesses in terms of lack of accessibility as well as from SELFMADE MakerSpace strength in its wheelchair-friendly furniture environment. This is the reason why the height of the worktop was chosen in such a way that both, wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users, can use it at the same time. To do so, wheelchair users drive under the worktop, whereas non wheelchair users can work while standing. Furthermore, one of the three 3D-printer is located on a rotating plate. This can rotate 360° to point into the working area but also into the entrance area. On top, there is a glass panel to increase employees with disabilities’ participation in 3D-printing by viewing the 3D-printing process at any time. The rotating platform makes it possible to follow the 3D-printing process from the outside without any potential danger. This has also the function of advertising the Mini-FabLab for every employee of the Rheinbabenwerkstatt who do not know the Mini-FabLab yet.

Fig. 2.
figure 2

3D-printer work area with one rotating plate and glass panel

Throughout the entire room, large characters help the users orientating themselves in the Mini-FabLab. Moreover, to support the open space idea, the motto of the Mini-FabLab is always “Do not just look, but try it out!”. For this purpose, all objects, which can directly print out without any adjustments are labelled to identify them. To do so, a mobile tablet is used. Using this, people with disabilities can select an object and see directly to which memory card it is assigned. Depending on their state of independence, the desired object can be printed out with or without support. In doing so, the Mini-FabLab uses the concept of PIKSL, who involve people with disabilities as experts. People of disabilities are experts of themselves - they have a precise idea of their needs and barriers they are confronted with. This is the reason why some equipment and strategies have already adjusted, expanded or replaced. Concerning the workplace, the keyboard has changed for visually impaired people to the same one as in Bottrop’s FabLab - a keyboard with good legible letters and maximum yellow-black-contrast. Moreover, it turned out that people with disabilities need more support in using the 3D-printer than initially believed. On basis of this experience, instruction booklets about “How to start a 3D-printer” were made together with people with disabilities. In this instruction booklet, nine steps from “choing an object” to “print this chosen object” are described in simple language. To support it visually, also pictures are used for instruction. Beside this, there are some further barriers concerning the 3D-printer. These are the missing safety pane in front of the 3D-printers, for people with disabilities’ difficult to handle buttons and too little SD-card slots. To remove these restrictions, solutions from the SELFMADE MakerSpace were used [8]. This is the reason why a safety pane in front of the 3D-printers has been installed to protect users from burnings. Moreover, a rotary bottom and a SD-card holder (both 3D-printed) were purpose-built to make the handling of the 3D-printers easier for people with disabilities. With the aid of these adjustments, especially people with spasticity or missing hand extremities get the chance to use the 3D-printers on their own. This enables people with disabilities to use 3D-printers and thus empowers their autonomy and self-determination.

With its location in an old covered storage room, the Mini-FabLab became a lighthouse in the maker-scene. It shows, true to the maker-motto, that everything is possible. Figure 3 therefore illustrates that “unusable places” can also be used for such an inclusive place.

Fig. 3.
figure 3

The old converted storage room before the reconstruction

2.2 Self-determination in the Mini-FabLab

The Mini-FabLab provides people with disabilities the opportunity to develop new ideas and products for their workplace as well as for their everyday life. While doing so, people with disabilities are always supported by pedagogical personnel, if they have any questions. The pedagogical personnel thus help in developing products and in using the machines. Although pedagogical personnel are always present, people with disabilities should try to develop their products on their own – the pedagogical personnel do not act as a “producer”, but rather as supporters of people with disabilities’ independence. Moreover, they also act as a “gap closer” between technological interfaces and people with disabilities’ digital competences to use these technologies.

As already mentioned in Sect. 1.1, the Mini-FabLab integrated the five levels of the self-determination concerning the 3D-printing process from Bosse and Pelka [12]. These levels range from the need of assistance to the own development of new objects. People with disabilities, who are on the first level, choose given objects out of the shelves on their own, but need assistance to print it. Assistance can be given by other people with disabilities, pedagogical personnel or makers. On the second level, people with disabilities also choose given objects out of the shelves. They do not need as much assistance as people with disabilities on the first level, because they can operate with the 3D-printer totally or partly on their own. For this, they use the above mentioned instruction booklets actively. In contrast to the first two levels, people with disabilities on the third level choose their objects not out of the shelves. They choose them from open source “curated lists”, where 3D-printed objects are collected digitally. Moreover, this is the last level, where people with disabilities need some help in printing the objects. The self-determination in these three levels focuses thus on the selection of objects. In contrast to this, the last two levels have more focus on the community-building and modelling of objects. This is the reason why people with disabilities on level four choose objects from communities and sharing platforms like “thingiverse” or “myminifactory” and print them without changes. Printing it with some changes or modelling own projects is the last rank, people with disabilities can reach. On these two levels, people with disabilities gain more autonomy and self-determination than on the other levels. Anyone has the opportunity to print objects – totally independent from their technical competences.

2.3 Events Concerning to the Mini-FabLab

Although the Mini-FabLab embodies the place of developing new ideas and 3D-printed objects, it is also open for other issues around digitalization. This is the reason why different events, which are directly linked to the Mini-FabLab, were organized. Thereby, the Mini-FabLab orientated towards some PIKSL courses (like cyber mobbing) and workshop series. As one workshop series, the “Digital Week” was organized. The idea about it was born during the establishment of the Mini-FabLab, the associated concept as well as of the analysis of PIKSL. The process of idea-finding started with pedagogues, who were asked about topics for the employees. From their results as well as from ideas of the project management, five different topics were scheduled for each day of the week in September 2019. People with disabilities got thereby the opportunity to learn more about topics like safety in social networks, cyber mobbing and robots. For the first mentioned topic, an expert gave a speech on the safety in social networks, whereby people with disabilities discuss actively with the expert about their attitude towards safety as well as about their behavior in social networks. Cyber mobbing, as the second above mentioned example, was also presented actively by an expert in a workshop. Here, the goal was to inform about cyber mobbing in general as well as to answer specific questions like “How can I protect myself against cyber mobbing?” and “How can I help someone, who is affected by cyber mobbing?”. After the successful participation in this workshop, people with disabilities got a certificate. Another workshop during the “Digital Week” was about and with robots. This means, that the topic “robots” was on the one hand presented theoretically with a PowerPoint presentation, but also on the other hand presented approachable with the robots itself. With this “hands-on-workshop”, people with disabilities became more clear about what robots are and what they are doing. With “Pepper” (humanoid robot) and “Paro” (medical commitment robot), people with disabilities got an idea about how robots work. By speaking, dancing and playing games with Pepper and stroking Paro, people with disabilities learned as close as possible about the functionalities of these robots.

Another event was the module “Embedded Systems” at the HRW in the winter semester 2018/2019 and 2019/2020. It has been launched for students of Applied Computer Science, Human-Technology Interaction, Energy Computer Science and Business Computer Science. In cooperation with the sheltered workshop in Bottrop, students of the HRW developed in one semester electronic assistance systems for people with disabilities through the service-learning approach. In a group of one person with at least one disability, three students and a coach of the HRW-FabLab-Team, students developed prototypes to improve and facilitate people with disabilities’ working processes, living situations or mobility. This process was implemented together with the user (people with disability). Moreover, an interactive process with regular user meetings took place. Thus, the person with disability was actively involved in the process of creation and can contribute his own opinion to the respective stage of development. In order to show people with disabilities the development of 3D-printed objects, students had, beside Bottrop’s FabLab, the opportunity to use the Mini-FabLab. Through this, people with disabilities’ participation in the development process became easier, especially when they did not have the mobility to come to the FabLab at HRW. In the end, the students presented their prototypes to interested visitors. In addition to this, the students created a wiki about their project and made it available to the public - all results are presented on the project website [3].

3 Examples of 3D-Printed Tools in the Mini-FabLab

In general, various objects, like little figures and keychains (“fun objects”) as well as toothpaste squeeze and blade stoppers (assistive tools) were developed in the Mini-FabLab. The first mentioned objects were primarily downloaded from an open platform called “thingiverse”, where diverse 3D-models are available to print directly without any individual changes. Although the assistive tools were also downloaded from thingiverse, these objects were modified by individual needs, e.g. some blade stoppers were modified for different kitchen knives (meat knives, bread knives).

Besides this, the following three examples will exemplify different objects, which are developed in the Mini-FabLab through a “Design Thinking” [13] approach. It started with problems people with disabilities had in their working space, e.g. holding pens (case A), deflection barrels (case B) and connecting plugs (case C). After understanding each problem, the status quo was observed from an outside-perspective. In case A for example it became clear that the person can not hold pens because of his/her hand impairment. As a result of this, multiple perspectives were discussed together with makers, pedagogical personnel and the people with disability. Together, they brainstormed about solutions, whereby the needs of the target person have always been in foreground. With this user-centralized perspective, makers developed first prototypes. These prototypes were finally tested by the target person, whereby he/she can always pronounce his/her options about it. By doing so, wishes of improvements were told to develop the prototype further. In the end of these Design Thinking process, an assistance tool to cure the problems at work results. Three of them are presented in the following. Although other authors, like Bosse and Pelka [10,11,12] have already published examples of 3D-printed objects, we decided to do it either, to get a feeling about what is possible in such a small old covered storage room.

3.1 Example A

At the reception of the sheltered workshop, a person with hand impairments had difficulties to hold pens. The skill of holding a pen is essential, because it is his/her daily work to check the list of visitors for correctness as well as to write one’s own name abbreviation. This makes clear that there was a need to correct the missing skill by developing a special holder for pens. Together with the person, maker developed a holder. With the help of children’s plasticine, they made a hand print. After it hardened for three days, a scan file was created with a 3D-scanner (Shining 3D EinScan Pro 2X Plus), which was processed in the Sculpting Program to smooth surfaces and to correct inequalities (see Fig. 4). Afterwards, the counterpart was created. In this example a fork was used, because the given problem was transferable to forks, spoons and knives. Thereby it was a problem that the fork was sprayed white because of the sensitiveness to reflections of the 3D-scanner. When the object (in this case the fork) had a matt surface, it was also scanned and processed. In order to that, the two parts can become one. They were put together in a further step and the negative of the fork was placed in the hand print. Finally, the last step was the conversion to a printable file in the program “Ultimaker Cura”. The cutlery holder was now ready and can be printed (see Fig. 5).

Fig. 4.
figure 4

The file for the cutlery holder

Fig. 5.
figure 5

The 3D-printed cutlery holder

3.2 Example B

A potential customer asked the “Bottroper Werkstätten” if they were able to carry out the order for the assembly of the deflection bins. This meant for the “Bottroper Werkstätten” the following: if they were able to build a good auxiliary device, a new order would be placed. Therefore, the first step was to select all employees who would use the work equipment. In a first round, ideas were collected and possible problems with the assembly were pointed out. Then a first jig was built with paper and adapted to the workpiece. By scanning the individual parts of the workpiece, the jig parts could be created in “Fusion 360” (3D-printing software). With an Ultimaker 2+ (3D-printer), the auxiliary jig was printed and then tested by the users. During the test phase it was noticed that it was still very difficult to remove the parts from the jig. This is the reason why, in the next step of the process a divisible auxiliary fixture was built, which was first equipped with a folding hinge. Problematic was that this auxiliary device could not be used, because the angle did not allow the complete removal of the workpiece from the auxiliary device. Therefore, in the third development step, two plates were inserted above the device. These plates were removable and the workpiece could be removed without any problems. This is the reason why this version (see Fig. 6) is currently in daily use in the Rheinbabenwerkstatt. Moreover, the workstation was supplemented by a clamping aid from the wood area of the “Bottroper Werkstätten”, because it was necessary to use an electric screwdriver to fasten the screws. This prevents the workpiece and the auxiliary device from slipping.

Fig. 6.
figure 6

Redirect tons and the self-build auxiliary (FA. Müller & Biermann GmbH & Co.KG)

3.3 Example C

A person who suffers from hemiplegia works in the electrical installation at a test station, where the correct current conduction of switching power supplies for lighting must be checked. For this purpose, it is necessary to connect two plugs on the right and left. Due to the fact that the person is paralyzed on one side, he/she has problems in connecting the two plugs. To enable this employee to carry out this work, a testing device was built (see Fig. 7). First of all, a large wooden plate has been seen, which had bulges for individual plates. These plates in turn were provided with specially created 3D-printed elements to clamp the part to be inspected. To do so, wood, material and 3D-filament were used. The plates can be replaced by screws according to the order. For this employee, this device offers a high added value, because he/she can perform high-quality work with only one hand. Moreover, he/she can participate in the assembly process actively. The panel shows the work of the wood workshop and the individually printed elements from the 3D printer. In addition, the actual work tool, the measuring device and the corresponding piston are also shown here. The plate elements are interchangeable depending on the size of the workpiece. The workpiece is inserted in the center and connected to the power circuit on the right and left. An exchange element can be seen at the top right of the following Fig. 7.

Fig. 7.
figure 7

Test station for switching power for led-illumination

4 Conclusion

The Mini-FabLab established by EL4 is a space to empower people with disabilities through a low-threshold learning and demonstrating experience laboratory. The paper introduces this space and illustrates in the first part how the Mini-FabLab has learned from other places. To do so, the strengths were implemented and the weaknesses were converted into strengths. This is the reason why people with disabilities as well as their accessibility are more on focus than in Bottrop’s FabLab. Moreover, the role of people with disabilities as experts was implemented from PIKSL to design and do everything in the Mini-FabLab with regard to their needs. In this context, the user-centralized approach from the SELFMADE MakerSpace became central. Thereby the three examples mentioned above give an insight into the opportunities of the Mini-FabLab. The examples illustrate that people with disabilities can develop more than “just” little figures and keychains in the Mini-FabLab. Although it has the smallest area compared to the other places, a large range of complex 3D-printed objects are still possible (see Sect. 3). The area has thus influence to support people with disabilities as well as to integrate them into the digital world, everyday life and workplace. Furthermore, it came to light that people with disabilities get a better feeling about the opportunities of a Mini-FabLab, if it is directly in their workplace. The solutions are easier than thought and with the help of the Mini-FabLab, no one had to change their workplace due to his/her impairment. This is the reason why the one, who works at the reception, can still work there, thanks to his/her 3D-printed pen holder (see example A). Example B clarified that received working orders from customers were only possible with 3D-printing and therefore with the help of the Mini-FabLab. The last example (C) illustrates that every workplace can be adjusted to employees’ impairments. Only some 3D-printed elements are necessary to develop a workplace for people who can basically do not work there without physical efforts. The 3D-printing thus opens an entry to workplaces, people with disabilities did not have before. So the adjustment of workplaces through 3D-printing opens enormous chances in integrating people with complex impairments in the working spaces. Thereby, the closeness to the target group is special in the Mini-FabLab and singular in the EL region right now. This is the reason why it is a role model and lighthouse in inclusion by which others can learn. Especially the location and closeness to people with disabilities can be an important feature that future spaces should take into account, because it does not matter where a Mini-FabLab is set up. It can be everywhere - in a laboratory at an university, in centers of districts or even in an old covered storage room in a sheltered workshop. The main focus lays on the fact that people with disabilities are reached, integrated and empowered.