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USC program adapts toys for kids with disabilities

The SC Assistive Technology Program rewires toys to make them easier to use and gives them to families for free. They're asking for donations to further the program.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A technology program at the University of South Carolina is making toys accessible for kids with disabilities in more ways than one. 

The SC Assistive Technology Program rewires toys to make them easier to use and gives them to families for free.

Regular toys that have a hidden on, off button in their backs or hands, can be difficult for kids like Christian Dodson to use. 

His mom, Nicole Jacobs told News19 that he "has cerebral palsy. He also had hydrocephalus when he was born." She also explained that he's blind from a coma and is nonverbal.

"Everything is through touch and sound. So, if he can feel it and hear it, he is absolutely for it," said Jacobs.

That’s where the adaptive toys come in. They look like a regular toy but have a special addition that makes them accessible for all kids. 

Techs that work with the program rewire the toys to add a CD or some type of large button on the outside that turns it on and off.

"Having the materials and resources here, my students can have a toy or a device that looks similar to what their peers their own age have that’s still motivating and engaging for them," explained special education teacher, Diana Martin.

Thanks to the SC Assistive Technology Program, she’s able to borrow adapted toys for her students, like Christian.

"I found a lot of my students needed different materials and activities they could do on their own and be independent with, and I knew the center here had so many options and things to choose from,” Martin added.

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Credit: Julia Kauffman

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Martin has several other students, like Chesnee Hooks and Illeanna Robinson that also use the toys. Their moms told News19 the program has helped them find toys their children enjoy.

"We have borrowed several toys from Assistive Technology to get her to have some things she can play with because that’s been the biggest struggle; is finding toys that she can keep on her tray and she can play with," said Chesnee's mom, Brittany Hooks. 

The program manager, Dr. Carol Page explained how the adaptive toys work:

“The switch is just like a light switch that we would use to turn lights on or off and we make them with CDs and that just provides a big surface for kids to push to turn a toy on or off.”

Store-bought toys that come already adapted for kids with disabilities can be very expensive.

"We’re not a rich family, you know he’s technically my fourth one, I have three other kids, so finding toys for his disability is super hard and if we do find ‘em, they’re way out of our price range," said Jacobs.

That’s why the program takes affordable toys and adapts them for families. 

Now, they need the public’s help to get new toys so they can add the switches and donate them to those in need.

The program has put together online wish lists so donors know exactly what to get:

1.    Amazon Wish List

2.    Target Wish List

3.    Walmart Wish List

You can send a toy to the Assistive Technology Program in one of three ways:

  • Drop off your donated toy at their facility at the Midlands Center: Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30. Their address is 8301 Farrow Road and the facility is inside the building on McPoplar Drive.

  • Place the order online and have the company ship it to the following address: Billfred Leverette
    SC Assistive Technology Program
    Center for Disability Resources
    8301 Farrow Road
    Columbia, SC 29203

  • Or ship the toy yourself to the above address.

The program is also accepting Amazon, Target and Walmart gift cards.