Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Resources for Adapting Toys and Using Switches

Toys at Christmas are a big part of what makes Christmas what it is. If there isn't something to play with, even for adults, then something is missing. Imagine the children with disabilities who would love to have a switch hooked up to a toy so they could make it go themsleves. I have tried to give folks some information on this so they could go out and get what they need to do just that.
Electric Toys and Powerlink Units:
I shared a blog post, linked here, on some toys and devices that work with a Powerlink control unit. This unit, available from Ablenet, allows you to plug in appliances, radios and electronic toys to control the power to it via a switch. It can run fans, juicers, popcorn poppers, Lite Brites, etc. You use the switches you can get from Ablenet, Enabling Devices, etc.
I had recommended a slot car race track to use with a Powerlink, and later found it was battery operated. I edited the post to show a new electric race track set that would work with a Powerlink and let folks know I had not seen the tiny words on the box saying "runs with batteries" until I had zoomed in on it on a second visit.
This brought up a discussion with a fellow blogger who had gotten excited about using the race set. We discussed how you can use a battery interruptor and rig your own switch access to the battery operated set as well. I thought I could compare the two methods and share a little more on the battery type of switch access.
Battery operated toys and switch access:
If you have a toy that has a simple on/off switch to run it, you can put a battery interrupter inside between the positive end of the battery and the metal end plate in the compartment that holds the battery. The interrupter is a small copper disc that has a wire welded on each side for positive and negative. When you plug a switch into a jack on the end of the interruptor cord, and hold the switch down, the curcuit is closed and the battery juice goes on in. When you let up on the switch, the circuit is now open and the power stops. If you turn the toy on before you use the switch, it is ready to be operated by the switch - does that make sense? If the toy isn't on first, then obviously it won't "go" whether you have the switch pressed down or not.
The trick to adapting toys like this is that if you don't have a simple on/off switch on the toy - let's say it has multiple actions and there is a control unit up inside, sometimes using the battery interrupter won't get it to do the thing you want.

I bought a Curious George train engine once that tooted and ran in a circle, but you had a middle switch setting for off and a sound switch setting and a run the train setting. There was a brain up inside the toy and I would have had to tear it apart to get to it to bypass the other switch and get it to do what I wanted. To do this would have called for hard wiring. I have included a site with directions on how to do surgery on an Elmo to get to the brain up inside and adapt it that illustrates this hard wiring.
So when it comes to that race car set I told you about, you would definitely have to look at it up close first and see how it works before you would know how to adapt it. That's one thing I like about Enabling Devices. They do all the work for you so the toys are ready to play with. Whether you use a Powerlink Unit, a battery interrupter, do it yourself or buy a pre-made model, switch activated toys are great for kids with disabilities.

Let's get to playing!

Links to tutorials and supplies you might find helpful:

1. Link to purchase battery interrupters and other supplies.
2. How to install a battery interrupter.
3. Converting a toy via hardwiring - WARNING: Shows graphic pictures of Elmo in surgery!
4. Article on a non profit - RePlay for Kids which adapts recycled toys to give away - great idea.
5. Tutorials on Switch Adapted Toys - including how to make your own switch.
6. Adapted play and switch toys, shares on the importance of adapted play.

All the best to you!


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

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