Helping Kids One Toy at a Time

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It’s an organization that provides many services to children with special needs. One way Reach Services does that is through the Adaptive Lending Library.

The free service helps over 1,400 students in an eight county service area.

Teachers, parents and therapists can check out toys that are designed for kids with unique challenges. Now, the library has some new toys to test out all thanks to some very talented freshmen at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Rose-Hulman created a new course: an engineering design studio for freshmen. The goal was to give students a project that would allow them to combine engineering, humanities and hands-on experiences.

That’s when the professors heard about Reach Services’ Adaptive Lending Library.

“Ok, this is fabulous!” says Patsy Brackin, professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of Engineering Design. “Freshmen we thought would get excited about making toys because that’s kind of fun. I think the thing that struck me the most is that not only are they excited about making a toy and showing they can do it, but they really want to help other people.”

Students in the class took existing toys and modified them to meet special needs. For example, the Lite Brite.

“The Lite Brite, which is a toy in which you put colored pegs into a grid that light up, was a challenge to individuals with disabilities because the pegs have such a small diameter that placing them with your hands would be rather challenging,” explains freshman Dante Zumbo.

With those challenges in mind, the students designed a device that allows someone to pick up a peg using their entire hand. Vibrating motors also let the person know when the peg has been properly placed.

Then, there’s Snap Circuits, which have also been modified for those who have challenges with fine motor skills. These Snap Circuits are easier to grip and have magnets that help them self-align.

“A lot of us grew up playing with Snap Circuits,” says freshman Sabri Amer. “We kind of brought that joy and we want other people to experience that even though it might be difficult for them, so we adapted it for them.”

Another toy is the Mosaic Tile Drawing Board and was created to help those with autism. 72 wooden blocks covered in a soft foam help address texture and symbolism.

“You could draw a cat, but it wouldn’t exactly look like a cat, so they would have to present that in their mind and be able to manage to construct it and draw it on the tiles,” explains freshman Cyrus Luczkow.

The students also came up with a new take on the classic game Battleship. However, this version is called Bigger, Better Battleship. Using colors instead of numbers and letters, it’s designed for those with visual impairments.

“We were doing different aspects of engineering on paper and I guess in the field, so it did take a lot of time, a lot of teamwork, a lot of effort, but we did a good job,” says freshman Jack Elliott.

The most rewarding part about the project is being able to make a difference in someone’s life.

“Part of the human purpose is to serve others and I find that the opportunities to do so are really a blessing,” says Zumbo.

“There’s more to work for rather than just a grade,” says Luczkow. “The learning experience was amazing, but you know that in the end, it’s going to help someone out.”

If you’d like to learn more about using Reach Services’ Adaptive Lending Library or the toys that it offers, click here.

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