- Sponsorship -

Making toys inclusive

Sophia Marin admitted it was a huge relief once she and her partner, Charnesha Bobo, finally were able to make their toy work.

“It was exciting because the outcome was what we wanted it to be,” said Sophia, a Kent Innovation High School student and senior at Lee High School.

What was the outcome? To be able to attach a variety of different switches to the toy so someone with limited mobility would be able to make the little red car light up and go “vroom.”

Sophia and Charnesha, a senior at Union High, were part of the senior capstone class at KIH led by teachers Julia Bierema and Rob Barrett, with student teacher Sam Alger. The class has multiple projects throughout the year in addition to the adapted toy project.

Press What Button?

Adapting toys has become an element of Grand Rapids Community College’s new, two-year occupational therapy assistant Program. Assistant Professor Robin Pegg used a project as part of activity analysis and planning.

GRCC students were each matched to a student from partner program Allegan Intermediate School District. The GRCC students analyzed a number of factors such as a child’s environment and specific skill level to determine how to adapt toys.

GRCC students were scheduled to deliver their toys to Allegan students later this month.

Once the KIH students had a clearer understanding of the need for adapted toys and how children would interact with them, they took a look at those they had collected.

“The problem is the button is too small for children who have a disability,” Sophia said of a yellow tractor that had a red button. “For most of the toys, the switch was too small.”

The toys needed a larger button, which might not seem hard to add, but students quickly learned that even the simplest of toys had a multitude of wires.

“Seeing all the wires and I got a little concerned,” Charnesha said. “Which wire do you cut? Which wire do you solder? It is all in the little details.”

Rockford High senior Gwenyth Jenkins said it was nerve-racking, in that she did not want to ruin the toy by soldering the wrong wire.

“When we play with a toy, we take it for granted that anyone is going to be able to press a button, but that is not the case… When (they are) finally able to play with a toy like their sister or brother can, well, it is pretty amazing to see their reaction.”

— Ron Houtman, REMC 8/Kent ISD education technology consultant

Ron Houtman, REMC 8/Kent ISD education technology consultant, told them failure is OK. Critical thinking skills such as trouble-shooting, problem-solving and being able to figure out a task on your own are what employers are looking for, he said, and failure helps develop those skills.

Next Project: Check Your In-Box

The project started when Houtman sent a flier asking for toy donations. He and Kindy Segovia host AssisTechKnow, an October technology conference focused on applied assistive technology for special education practitioners, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech and language therapists.

“We were not sure what (project) we were going to do next,” Bierema said. “Once we saw the flier, we knew this was it.”

Kent Innovation High School students learned to re-wire and solder in order to adapt donated toys

Houtman is familiar with the need for adaptive toys: the REMC 8 assistive technology lending library provides materials to teachers and has adapted toys and switches designed to accommodate many levels of mobility.

An adapted toy can start at $50, and the components to adapt it can drive up the price as well. A commercial battery disruptor starts at $15, and a switch can cost between $50 and $80.

Houtman and Segovia, Kent ISD’s assistive technology coordinator, planned a workshop session on adapting toys at the October conference. The plan was to demonstrate how to adapt a toy and then donate the adapted toys to those who might benefit from them.

In January, Bierema and Barrett met with Houtman, who was supportive of the capstone project.

“When we play with a toy, we take it for granted that anyone is going to be able to press a button, but that is not the case,” Houtman said. “This was an opportunity to have the students build an adaptive toy, and learn how others with disabilities play with these toys.”

From left: Rockford High senior Gwenyth Jenkins and Forest Hills Central High senior Beau Bowers demonstrate the toy truck they adapted

Trying New Things

KIH students admitted that when they first heard about the project — which includes taking toys apart, re-wiring and soldering — they were not as enthusiastic.

“To be honest, I personally didn’t know anything about electronics or soldering things together,” said Beau Bowers, a Forest Hills Central senior who said he plans to study writing after high school. “I didn’t know what I was going to be doing.”

Added Gwenythn: “I thought I was going to fail the project.”

Students brainstormed a toy drive at KIH. They invited a guest speaker from Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center to talk about empathy, along with the need for adapted toys and how children with limited mobility play with them. Houtman also demonstrated switches and circuits, and how to solder.

KIH students discovered that many of the toys they collected had buttons that were too small

It moves! It moves!

KIH students adapted about six toys, which will be given to Mary Free Bed for patient use. Bierema said they plan to bring the toys to the facility and see first-hand how the toys are used.

“When a student is finally able to play with a toy like their sister or brother can, well, it is pretty amazing to see their reaction,” Houtman said.

Gwenyth said she could relate to that feeling, especially after successfully getting the yellow toy tractor rewired and connected to a new large push button.

“We were just so excited,” she said. “We were the first ones to finish, and we were so proud of ourselves. We came into this project not sure what we were doing and we were able to make it do something.”

- Sponsorship -
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio or email Joanne.


Students reopen fine-dining restaurant six months after closing its doors

GRCC’s The Heritage has reopened to the general public, with culinary students cooking, baking their way toward degrees...

Plotting for a plot

Students’ hand-drawn maps are meant for the safekeeping of memories and to spur ideas for when they write personal narratives...

Outdoor lover, zen seeker, middle-schooler hope-giver

Bill Cataldo is the new K-8 principal for Cedar Springs’ new Red Hawks Online virtual school this year. School News Network took some time to get to know him better in this edition of Meet Your Principal...

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

‘We are here to help’

The tri-colored posters along the walls of the Kent Career Tech Center offer a simple reminder to students who walk the facility’s halls: 'We are here to help'...

Kent ISD offers a mix of in-person, virtual instruction

Districts and Kent ISD staff have worked to get schools and programs ready for the 2020-2021 school year, while also adjusting to changing guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic...

Districts ponder how to keep students learning, engaged

Teachers are challenged to keep their style of instruction intact with students who are socially distanced and, often, not in the building at all...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU