Faculty, Students Play Santa, Delivering Accessible Toys to Ability KC’s Young Clients

Thursday, December 12, 2019
Child pressing a button on a toy

For many children, unwrapping presents on Christmas means discovering all order of blinking, beeping, moving things to annoy the adults in the room.

However, those with developmental or neurological disabilities can have trouble with the fine motor skills needed to push or pull the corresponding controls on those sorts of toys.

That’s why students and faculty from Rockhurst University’s exercise science, physical and occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, nursing, and engineering departments teamed up to modify toys, bypassing the smaller switches and instead installing one big “jellybean” button. On Tuesday, just in time for the holidays, a number of faculty and one of the students who helped make those modifications brought the toys to Ability KC to distribute to the organization’s young clients.

“It’s a great project, and obviously the timing was perfect,” said Dave Heller, M.Ed., visiting professor of exercise science. “We got to play Santa Claus.”

And there’s more to it than just equity under the tree, according to Suzie Wiley, an occupational therapist at Ability KC, an organization that provides medical, therapeutic and educational services for children and adults with disabilities — there’s a therapeutic value, as well.

“For one thing, it’s just having toys children with disabilities can engage with, where they actually have an impact on it starting again, and that’s a huge developmental milestone,” she said. “A lot of the kids we work with don’t have the motor control to activate regular toys. So we need to work on developing motor skills that they can perhaps carry over into higher level skills.”

It all started with an October event on campus called Companions on a Journey: An Interprofessional Experience, a one-day workshop of sorts designed to foster interprofessional and interdisciplinary collaboration for those in Rockhurst University’s health sciences and related programs. Joan Delahunt, OTD, MS, OTR/L, assistant professor of occupational therapy, said faculty wanted to offer a service-related activity as part of the day. Through a connection at the University of Missouri, she found Switched and their resources for toy modification.

Heller said Rockhurst’s Purpose Club for undergraduate health science majors made an Amazon wish list with toys and crowdsourced their purchase. At the Companions on a Journey event, teams of volunteer students and faculty from different disciplines worked to modify about 20 toys, fitting them with the big buttons.

“I think it helped them get out of their comfort zone a little bit,” Delahunt said of the October build. “It was good to see all of these students from different areas work together, because that’s really how it works in a clinical setting.”

Cooper Rees, a freshman exercise science major, looked on Tuesday as the children got their first chance to navigate their new toys. Having helped with the build, he said seeing it meant a lot to see the work in action.

“I’ve never really thought about not being able to play with toys, until I saw some of the Switched videos, and I saw how much it actually helps these kids, how much joy it brings them,” he said.