MILWAUKEE – The Monaghan Ballroom at Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union felt like Santa Claus’ workshop on Saturday with all the toys that were being tinkered with. But instead of making toys, they were being altered for use by children with fine motor skill issues.
The Inclusive Play: Toys For All program and the Marquette Opus College of Engineering facilitated a ‘Build Day’ for students to adjust toys with small switches. Research engineer Molly Erickson explains the obstacle with the mechanism that several toys operate on.
“What we’re trying to do is take off-the-shelf toys and adapt them so they can be used during speech therapy,” explained Erickson. “We do that by taking out the small button or switch and replacing it with an AUX cord that therapists can plug therapy switches into.”
Erickson says the project started when Vladimir Bjelic, a speech-language pathologist at Penfield Children’s Center, realized that some toys are not usable for children with limited abilities; and specially made toys are significantly more costly.
“Adaptive toys are so expensive to purchase online,” said Bjelic. “They are anywhere between 200-600 percent more expensive than a regular toy off the shelf. What we’re doing here is amazing because we are making a variety of toys that are affordable.”
Not just affordable, but free. Bjelic went on to say Inclusive Play received all of the toys for free through donations and partnerships. Once they are modified, they will go to clinics in the Milwaukee and Madison area; or families that need them.
Aside from helping children obtain toys that help them learn, students volunteering at the Build Day were able to develop their passion for engineering and robotics.
Will Herrman is a freshman in high school and a member of the First Robotics team. He said his passion for building robots and engineering flows over to projects like these.
“This event is a really good way to provide for children with disabilities and it’s a great way to utilize these skills are learn new skills,” Herrman said.
Paige Harrill is a junior at Marquette University studying bio-computing. She said experiences like this one are an interesting challenge.
“Coming here, we get to practice a lot more technical skills that I don’t use in the classroom,” said Harrill. “I get to practice stripping wire, sautering and other everyday skills.”
Over the course of two Building Days, the first on November 12th, 140 toys will be modified and distributed.
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