One of the most impactful projects my fifth-grade students take part in is a project to hack toys to make them accessible for kids with disabilities. This simple project, that typically costs families upwards of a hundred dollars can be done for under one dollar. The toys, which began as a standard plush toy with a push-button to produce sound and movement were transformed to a toy equipt with a 3.5mm stereo jack. This new plug that students installed, allows for any standard adaptive switch to be plugged in and used. This modification allows kids who already have specialized switches to plug in and play. In addition, the fifth-grade students made their own tap switch that can be activated by a slap, tap of a foot, or nod of a head.
To begin, students took apart the seam of the stuffed animal, leading to the press switch. Once inside, they cut the wires attaching the original press switch. From here, they stripped the two wires.
Next, students took a 3.5mm stereo extension cable and cut it in half. Next, they stripped both of these. Then, they took the stereo extension jack and wired it into the two wires in the stuffed animal. My students used electrical tape to secure the wires, but you may also want to solder them for a more secure connection. Once the new jack is in place, students tucked the extra wire into the stuffed animal and sewed it so just the end of the jack was sticking out.
Students then worked on creating switches in a most basic and economical way. Students took two squares of recycled cardboard and covered them with foil, then “sandwiched” the two boards together with extra bare cardboard placed in the middle. Students then took the remaining half of the stereo extension cable and taped one wire to each side of the “sandwich.” The switch could now be plugged into the stuffed animal and activated. There is a lot of room here for modifications and creativity. Challenge students to invent their own switches to meet the needs of various children you are making the toys for. Perhaps a child can only use a foot tap, a head nod, or a breath sensor, so encourage students to create switches that will work for specific situations.
Stereo extension cables can be found for under a dollar at Monoprice
Video of Toy Hacking Final Product