UW News

December 7, 2016

Volunteers hack toys for children with disabilities at UW Dec. 11

photo of person adapting a toy train

Volunteers will adapt toys at holiday event on Dec. 11 at the UW to make them accessible for children with disabilities. Many off-the-shelf toys have difficult-to-access buttons or inputs that can be replaced with switches that are easier to operate.Taskar Center for Accessible Technology/ University of Washington

Off-the-shelf toys often require some force or dexterity to activate, making it frustrating, difficult or impossible for children with limited motor abilities or developmental disabilities to play with them.

On Dec. 11 at the TCAT Hack for Access: Holiday Toy event, community volunteers will disassemble and rewire toys from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of Washington’s CoMotion MakerSpace to make them more accessible for children with disabilities.

The Taskar Center for Accessible Technology housed in the UW Department of Computer Science & Engineering, with support from the UW Human Ability & Engineering Lab, UW Bioengineering Outreach and AccessEngineering, is hosting the event. Tickets and pre-registration are required to attend.

The event is an opportunity for community members to learn about the adaptive needs of people with limited motor abilities or developmental disabilities, and to gain hands-on experience in toy adaptation. Fifty toys will be adapted this year, chosen by parents, caregivers and providers for the intended recipients from a list of toys selected for adaptability, function, sensory stimulation and educational factors.

Volunteers will start with off-the-shelf battery-powered toys. Many have buttons or inputs that are inaccessible to children with disabilities. But with a few simple electronic hacks, volunteers can adapt toys to make them switch-accessible, which means that a child who was previously unable to operate the toy now can.

Twenty students already skilled in toy adaptation — many of whom were trained by UW Bioengineering Outreach — will be stationed around the makerspace as team leaders whom volunteers can approach with questions.

Toy adaptation opens up new avenues and customized solutions to allow children with limited motor abilities or developmental disabilities to interact with the toys independently. In many cases, the children who will receive the hacked toys are unable to interact with most toys currently on the market. These toys have many functions beyond play, allowing special needs students to interact, engage in community functions, find joy and learn.

While the Taskar Center event is in its second year, it is larger than the previous effort thanks to support from donors and collaboration with the UW Human Ability & Engineering Lab and UW Bioengineering Outreach.

“UW has a long history of advancing accessible technologies,” said Anat Caspi, director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology.

“I was so glad to get together with others at UW Engineering who are interested specifically in toy and play adaptation, an area that has played a major role in our activities for the past two years,” Caspi said.

The collaboration has also spawned the launch of Husky ADAPT, an initiative across UW Engineering to engage students in universal design of play and to organize events and outreach opportunities throughout the year that will create a community of practice around toy and play adaptation.

To learn more about the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, visit tcat.cs.washington.edu

To donate a toy, contact uwtcat@uw.edu

To request a toy for a person with a disability, please fill out the form at: tinyurl.com/TCATToySignup2016

To sign up for announcements from HUSKY ADAPT, sign up at http://huskyadapt.cs.washington.edu/.