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Toy Adaptation

ADAPTED TOY LIBRARY PROJECT

Play is a critical part of children’s lives. Through play, children develop physical, cognitive, creative, social, and emotional skills. Many kids who have visual impairments, motor limitations or cognitive limitations, can’t use battery operated toys off the shelf. They can’t see or identify the tiny buttons at the bottom of a train chassie, and muscle weakness mean they cannot press a plush toy tummy to make it sing or dance. Occupational Therapists may introduce parents to adapted toys. Using switch adapted toys means that Sophia doesn’t have to miss out on important play lessons, like cause and effect, just because the store-bought toys aren’t suitable for her. The problem was that these toys typically cost 3-to-4 times the price of the same toy off the shelf

Using switch adapted toys mean that kids like Sophia doesn’t have to miss out on important play lessons, like cause and effect, just because the store-bought toys aren’t suitable for her. The problem was that these toys typically cost 3-to-4 times the price of the same toy off the shelf.

What is Toy Adaptation?

Toy adaptation involves opening toys and soldering in a jack to bypass the standard off/on switches or buttons. Once this jack is installed, we can plug in any switch that the player can use and the toy is then customized to the player’s abilities. The process takes less than two hours to complete and costs approximately $1 per toy.

So for the price of the toy plus very cheap electronic parts, we can create this switch adapted toy that provides play opportunities for nearly every kid!

Presently in Washington state, there is no way to ‘try before you buy’ or any mechanism for assessing whether what a caregiver is buying is the right fit for the child.

We started running small toy adaptation events, but once Husky ADAPT, the student organization, formed, it became a movement!

HuskyADAPT and the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, are bringing together students, faculty, engineers, clinicians, community members and even high school students to adapt toys. Husky ADAPT now runs bimonthly events where multidisciplinary teams adapt a wide variety of toys and also develop tangible engineering skills such as soldering, problem solving, and circuitry analysis. More importantly, adaptors become engaged in broader conversations about accessibility and universal design, learning how they are essential to fostering inclusivity.

Between Husky ADAPT and The Taskar Center, we’ve adapted more than 350 toys and engaged 450 volunteers in the span of just two years. And this includes elementary, high school and college students, as well as parents, caregivers, therapists and even entire special education departments! We have a thriving community of volunteers and it is growing as more young students are interested in both developing their engineering skills and helping out a great cause.

The next challenge is to find the right partner for this ongoing support from the community to have toys appropriately distributed to the population that needs it most. With toys you want variety not just function, the natural next step was to find a community partner for a toy and switch lending library.

Provail is the leading therapy center for people with mobility and speech impairments in the PNW. The PROVAIL client population ranges across all ages.  The Toy Adaptation partnership between the Taskar Center and Provail is the perfect community-to-college partnership. The toy lending library allows us to lend toys and switches to individuals who can test and borrow toys for in-home use. Importantly, student teams also develop educational materials that allow other communities to adapt toys, and in particular encourage OTs and caregivers to try this new skill.

Through a combination of toy adaptation events, the toy lending library, and our online documentation, we aim to make adapted toys more widely available. Through cross-disciplinary efforts, we are developing the next generation of inclusively minded engineers, students, and clinicians and empowering parents and caretakers to take part in creating innovative and accessible devices for adapted play.

Interested in being involved in Toy Adaptation? Contact uwtcat@uw.edu