By mixing engineering with community service, the Toy Adaption Program: Connection for Expansion is a group of engineering students that provides modified toys for children with special needs.
While most toys you will find at Wal-Mart or Target are designed for the common child, some children with special needs are unable to operate a given toy because of physical impairment. By making a few modifications, such as changing a switch to a button, TAP makes toys that any child can play with.
Elizabeth Riter, program manager and founder of TAP, said the program arrived on campus in 2013 after a former student of hers contacted her about the idea, which sprung from a similar organization — Replay for Kids in Medina, Ohio. The former student had gone through a toy adaptation workshop with Replay for Kids and proposed bringing it to OSU with the purpose to apply engineering outside of the classroom, Riter said.
“We are just starting to see students who are interested in doing this type of engineering that also helps humanity in some way.” — Elizabeth Riter, program manager and founder of TAP.
While Riter said the first workshop only had about a 50 percent success rate with adapting toys, she went on to say TAP is now run by a group of engineers who run workshops for different groups and has evolved into a lab experience in the classroom.
“Sometimes you break open a toy and it’s easy to break open, but then it’s really hard to put back together,” said Meg West, a fourth-year in civil engineering and an intern with TAP.
Now in its third year, the team has gained experience in modifying toys. As for the design process, Riter said the plan to attack for each toy is open-ended, as each toy is built differently. Keeping up with the newer and popular toys can be difficult, the team has been able to make modifications to toys like an electrical bubble blower, where the team added an audio jack cord where the user can plug in the switch to activate the toy.
“It’s opening them up. It’s figuring out how they work then basically adding a second way to activate the toy,” Riter said. “It still works the original function, but kids can activate it by using a switch.”
Since each special needs child suffers from a different disability, each toy has to be specifically modified to fit the child’s capabilities.
Much like Design for 90, TAP is an engineering program that has a focus on humanitarianism. Riter believes the program’s popularity comes from students’ interests in helping others with assistive technology.
“We are just starting to see students who are interested in doing this type of engineering that also helps humanity in some way,” Riter said. “Assistive technology and adaptive technology is something that is becoming more prevalent in what students want to do with an engineering degree.”
Rachel Kajfez, an assistant professor with the Department of Engineering Education, said she feels it is important to add TAP to a first-year engineering student’s curriculum, saying it would give the student the opportunity to find an interest in assistive and adaptive technology.
“Students can have a really tangible, hands-on, people-orientated experience for their first year,” Kajfez said. “So hopefully this will spur involvement in other humanitarianism or people-centered kind of work.”
TAP works with two organizations –– the Nisonger Center Toy and Technology Library as well as Katelyn’s Kloset –– which help distribute the modified toys to families. In addition, the group plans to work with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to host a workshop to show parents how to create adaptations for toys. Because of grants from the Office of Outreach and Engagement, TAP is able to donate all of their modified toys for free.
“If you were to buy a toy, you might buy it at Target or Amazon for something like $15,” Riter said. “If you bought (the adapted toy) from a company that actually sells adapted toys, it’s going to be four or five times more that cost.”
While doing a workshop at Katelyn’s Kloset, an adaptive toy library, Jarod Manguiat, a second-year in computer science engineering and an intern with TAP, had the chance to witness how his work can impact the lives of the children and families.
“It’s really cool to see the families, especially giving the chance to see their kids be independent,” Manguiat said. “It’s even cooler to watch the parents watch their kids be independent.”
The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.