Toy hack workshop

Two WWU clubs modify toys for children with disabilities

Children with special needs face obstacles that most kids never will. Common toys that line the shelves are often incompatible with disabilities. When Brian Hartman, assistant professor of education at WWU, learned about toy adaptation programs that make toys more accessible for children with special needs, he decided to bring the idea to student clubs on campus. “Since special needs children don’t have any of these resources in the valley, I thought it would be a great program to start,” Hartman said.

On Nov. 16, the Education Club and the Society for Biological Engineering Club hosted a toy hack workshop in Kretschmar Hall, where students modified a dozen toys to make them more functional for children with disabilities. For example, they added large external buttons to an electronic alphabet toy and an air-powered ball popping toy, both of which came wired with difficult-to-access control buttons.

The Education Club led fundraising efforts for the event and purchased the toys using donations from Walmart, the WWU Center for Educational Equity and Diversity (CEED), and other private donors. The Society for Biological Engineering Club prepared tools for the event and provided technical aid to the hackers.

The 12 toys that were altered during the workshop were placed in a toy library, located in the CEED offices on the first floor of Smith Hall, where parents of children with special needs can check out toys free of charge.

The November toy hack was the first of many to come. “We intend to continue to grow the program and hope to involve engineering students in their senior projects in the future,” Hartman said. He estimates that there are 40-50 families in the valley with preschool-aged children with special needs. His goal is to build the library to 50 toys over time so that there are plenty of options for everyone.

Posted Jan. 14, 2018