Occupational Therapy Class Adapts Toys for Children With Disabilities
A child receiving a toy during the holidays can fill them with joy and be heartwarming to witness. However, for children with a disability—and those who love them—it can become a moment of heartbreak when a toy’s switches, toggles and buttons make it impossible to play with.
For the second year, occupational therapy adjunct professor Zach Samalonis and students in his 3D Printing and Rehabilitation course have combined old-fashioned holiday spirit with modern technology to prevent that disappointment. Using 3D printers, they created adaptive “switch jacks” for toys that allow assistive technology to activate them. With the help of a local university partner, the adapted toys will be distributed to children with disabilities in the Philadelphia region.
“The 3D Printing and Rehabilitation course introduces occupational therapy students to the design process, familiarizes them with 3D printing as an emerging tool, and teaches them how technology can be integrated into the way they practice,” says Samalonis, an industrial design alumnus who applied his expertise to help create a prosthetic for surfers. “This project was the perfect way for the class to work on something with real-world implications, making children happy.”
The inspiration to have his class use 3D printers to adapt toys came from Makers Making Change. Every year, the organization’s Hacking for the Holidays campaign holds events all over Canada, where volunteers create hundreds of switch jacks for toys for children with disabilities.
When Samalonis contacted Makers Making Change to see how his class could be involved, he learned Temple University’s TechOwl sought adapted toys to distribute. As a result, Samalonis partnered with the Temple program that helps people with disabilities explore the tools and technology they need to be independent.
Each year, TechOwl reps speak to Samalonis’ class about assistive technology and switch-adapted toys and teach students how to assemble and solder 3D-printed switches. Samalonis hands off the completed toys to TechOwl, who distributes them to area children. This year, the adapted toys include bubble machines and light-up star domes that shine a star-filled sky on the ceiling.
“This project is a great example of Jefferson’s commitment to interdisciplinary work, cross-university collaboration and community engagement,” Samalonis says.
Read more about the project in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and watch this segment on 6ABC below.