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An engineering toy story

Ohio State students gladly play role of engineering elves

Green Engineering Scholars add switch mechanisms to toys to make them easier for disabled children to enjoy.Green Engineering Scholars add switch mechanisms to toys to make them easier for disabled children to enjoy.The Ohio State University’s Green Engineering Scholars are using their engineering skills to pay it forward and help children and families with disabilities.

Students from the Green Engineering Scholars (GES) program—one of the 16 scholars programs at Ohio State that focuses on green engineering, innovation and social responsibility— teamed up with the nonprofit organization RePlay for Kids to adapt toys for children with disabilities. During a three-hour workshop in October, 40 scholars students adapted dozens of toys by adding switch mechanisms that make them easier for disabled children to enjoy. 

The scholars donated the toys to the Toy and Technology Library at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center and Katelyn’s Krusade, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children with special developmental and medical needs.

Adapted switches are needed because it can be difficult for disabled children to operate traditional toy switches, which are often small and hard to reach. The students carefully took apart the toys and soldered new wires to a switch port, allowing for a variety of switch types to be connected.

Mary Jo Wendling, manager of the Toy and Technology Library, said this service is invaluable to the families of children with disabilities, considering the cost of commercially available switch-activated toys.

K
risten Nemeth, a second-year mechanical engineering major and community service co-chair for the Green Engineering Scholars, was happy to help ease the financial burden on these families.

“With families already having to pay for doctor’s appointments or treatments for their children, they do not have a ton of money to spend on toys,” she said “Having volunteers adapt regular toys for them is fantastic because then they don’t have to spend outrageous amounts of money.”

This is the second batch of toys GES has adapted for the Nisonger Center’s Toy and Technology Library. After visiting the library in the spring, students decided that donating adapted toys to the library, rather than individual families as originally planned, would have a bigger impact.

“Their thought was by donating to the Toy and Technology Library, it would put these toys in the hands of many more families,” said Wendling.

Nemeth said donating the toys to the library benefits families in multiple ways.

“Having the toys donated to a public place is convenient because parents can bring whatever switches their children need and multiple children can play with multiple toys,” Nemeth said. “Another good reason for having the toys go to the library is that the children with disabilities can play with the toys along with abled children.” 

Jack Jones, a second-year chemical and biomolecular engineering major and the other community service co-chair for Green Engineering Scholars, gained practical knowledge from the workshop.

“We all like how hands-on this program is…We learn the theoretical aspects of [circuitry] in physics, but applying it is fun,” Jones said. “The workshop also taught the importance of the design process. Rushing into any project without a plan can be problematic. Working through the process of defining a problem, planning a solution, implementing that idea, then testing was a necessity.”

Circuitry and problem solving skills weren’t the only lessons scholars received.

“After hearing two parents talk about their children with disabilities, I felt empowered to do something,” Nemeth said. “This was a great opportunity to practice some engineering skills and make an impact in the community.”

Liz Riter, Green Engineering Scholars program coordinator, plans to continue this partnership with RePlay for Kids and the Nisonger Center with workshops and donations each semester for years to come.

Written by Karlie Frank