When Molly Mollica, a third-year bioengineering Ph.D. student, realized that there was no community for adaptive toys in Washington state, she and a group of students decided to establish a multidisciplinary design group that strives to develop inclusive toys for children with disabilities.
As a result, HuskyADAPT was founded in 2017 and the organization has welcomed undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students to engineer accessible technology ever since. According to their website, HuskyADAPT “can help train the next generation of inclusively minded engineers, clinicians, and educators to help make the world a more equitable place.”
The organization consists of three components: toy adaptation, which creates innovative toys for children with disabilities, design, which partners students with community co-designers to solve accessibility problems, and community engagement, which hosts “design-a-thons” with local K-12 schools and industry experts.
Mollica said that adaptive toys are “developmentally important” for children because they enhance independence and essential motor skills. However, not all toys are usable for children with disabilities who may not have the reach, strength, or touchpoints for interaction.
For example, when a child with limited muscle strength can’t squeeze a plush monkey to press a button, they miss out on an opportunity to learn about the toy. On a social aspect, the child may feel less included when they can’t play along with other children.
Mollica saw this reality when a parent told her that their child, who couldn’t use a controller, wanted to play Xbox with their siblings. She and her team interviewed the child to learn about their frustrations and constructed a new controller with large buttons and a joystick that ensures a firm grip that is usable for them.
Alexander Novokhodko, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student and an engineer in the Xbox Adaptation project, had a lot to learn during the design process. He said the team emphasized the need to understand the user, be open to diverse perspectives, and be humble when making assumptions about the user’s conditions.
“Designing for [the user] has really shaped how I see the world as an engineer,” Novokhodko said. “A big part of universal design is learning to listen to the people who have the need. They are the experts in their own lived experience.”
Universal design will apply to all of us at some point in our lives. Whether a person is able-bodied or not, everyone will soon have a disability naturally through aging.
“All of us will eventually become beneficiaries of universal design if it is present or will find ourselves limited by the universal design if it is absent,” Novokhodko said. “... [accessible technology] enables people to have fulfilling social lives to pursue careers and hobbies.”
A legacy that HuskyADAPT leaves in the accessible design domain is the “continuity” of the open-source PNW Adapted Toy Library which is made possible by a partnership among PROVAIL Therapy Center, the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology at the Paul G. Allen School for CS&E, and HuskyADAPT. that allows anyone to recreate or build computer-assisted accessible products. To make the library accessible, the website has a “checkout” similar to checking out an online product.
Novokhodko said that ensuring continuity is very important for HuskyADAPT. He hopes that the impact will go beyond one family in Washington State and is replicated for people around the world.
“HuskyADAPT is trying to help solve the problem that the world wasn’t designed by everyone,” Mollica said. “... that means it is inaccessible to a large number of people. We’re trying to, toy by toy that we adapt … we are trying to make the world a better place.”
Reach reporter Anh Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @thedailyanh
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