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ETTAC Newsletter

Volume 5: Spring 2018

ETTAC’s Creative Director: ‘Learn to do one thing, you realize you can learn to do anything’

Written by Eric Vreeland

Tracy Homer says she likes to “break things.” But that’s a really good thing for her clients, like Nathaniel Gross.

Gross, 32, is blind. He has a great app that allows him to read his mail, or a book. The app audibly translates the written content on a page, but it was difficult for him to line up the bill, or letter, or a page of type in a way that he could see the whole page or keep it in focus.

That’s when Homer, East Tennessee Technology Access Center’s Creative Director, stepped in.

And she had reinforcements from Knox Makers, which operates a Makerspace in the bottom floor of ETTAC’s building on Childress Street.

Homer and Maker enthusiast Jondale Stratton came up with a low-cost, effective solution. They built a phone holder tower – more or less a box, into which Gross can slip the paper he wants translated audibly.

Then he lays the phone on top of the box. Raised bumpers hold the phone in place, so it’s precisely lined up above the camera hole.

No more blurry images and problems getting an audible translation.

“This has helped me be more independent,” says Gross, who lives in Caryville and is currently interviewing for jobs.

“I wasn’t sure anybody could do anything to help me with this. It surprised me how well it worked out.”

That’s actually what Homer’s job as ETTAC’s Creative Director is – to come up with solutions that are tailored to the needs of individuals.

“I like weird projects,” she says. “I like the challenge. It’s a job that calls for crazy ideas sometimes: How can I break this and redo it to make it better? How can I make this work?

Serving more children

Mary Thom Adams, ETTAC executive director, decided to hire someone who could create specialized solutions for clients after touring a sister center in Chattanooga, which had a Maker on staff.

“That person could create solutions that previously didn’t exist,” Homer said. “We’re talking about customized solutions. If you can imagine a device or a tool, the Makers can use 3D printing to make the idea a reality.”

Homer wants to increase ETTAC’s outreach. For example, she hopes to extend Toy Tech, which involves volunteers retrofitting toys so that children with disabilities can use them. The toys are distributed at a Christmas party.

“I want to extend the program to older kids, who don’t want a Tickle Me Elmo,” Homer says. “They’re more likely to be interested in gaming, or musical instruments, or board games – or art.

“And if we can modify gifts for older kids, we can extend this into a year-round program. ETTAC wants to reach a broader area – not just help kids with a narrow range of ages and disabilities, but help a bunch of people, a lot of ages.”


If you are interested in adapting toys or learning more about the Knox Makers and Tracy's work, contact her at