Toy Adaptation Program at Ohio State helps fix toys for children with special needs

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Program helps simplify complex toys and teaches student real-world skills

Published on December 07, 2017


Rachel Kajfez discusses the Toy Adaptation Program

Like scientists in Santa’s workshop, organizers of a program at The Ohio State University are working to adapt toys so that children with special needs are able to use them.

“Some kids cannot activate the toy the way it was designed,” Department of Engineering Education Assistant Professor Rachel Kajfez said. “So we take these toys that are available on the market and we hack them.”

Kajfez is chief collaborator for Ohio State’s Toy Adaptation Program. She discussed the program at an event hosted by the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy Wednesday.

TAP Program Manger Elizabeth Riter started the adaptation effort in the College of Engineering in 2015. The program develops workshops to teach engineering students and community members how to adapt toys for children with disabilities.

The adaptation process adds an external wire to common electronic toys so a simple switch can activate it without preventing the toy from functioning normally. The switches take complicated toys that might have multiple buttons or effects and simplifies them.

Intern Samantha Young shows how switches are used on toys

“A lot of times a child who is very young, or still in a hospital, might need a larger switch,” Kajfez said.

The program is not just an asset to parents and their children. It’s also a powerful teaching tool for students.

Samantha Young is a Toy Adaptation Program intern. A second-year student majoring in health sciences, Young said the program has been critical to her education.

“I’ve been really impacted by it. My aunt had a developmental disability that inhibited her in a lot of ways so I was very emotional when I started working with this initiative,” Young said.

Kajfez said the toys function as a development tool for children. In addition to helping teach sharing and other social skills, the adapted toys can help children improve their fine motor skills and understanding of cause and effect.

“Children learn through play, especially at a very young age,” Kajfez said.

The Toy Adaptation Program will be adapting toys with several families Saturday, Dec. 9, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The program will be donating some of the toys to occupational therapists as well. All toys adapted in the program are made available as donations.

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