Jefferson students tinker with holiday toys for kids with disabilities

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Sunday, December 3, 2023
Jefferson students tinker with holiday toys for kids with disabilities
The 'Hacking for the Holidays' campaign sees students adding accessibility features to toys, which are then donated to local children.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "What we're doing is adapting toys so that these children with disabilities can access these toys without even, like, thinking of their disability," said Jianna Alcantara.

Alcantara, originally from the Philippines and the first in her family to become a graduate student, is proud to be a part of the 'Hacking for the Holidays' campaign. The goal is to add accessibility features to pre-existing toys, which are then donated to children in the Philadelphia area.

The effort is orchestrated by Zachary Samalonis, an adjunct professor at Jefferson College of Rehabilitation Sciences and a 2020 Jefferson graduate.

"We're taking an existing toy, we're adding an external jack to it and then it will allow users to plug in a 3D-printed button that allows them to operate the toy," said Samalonis.

In this case, the toy was a miniature light dome that projects a constellation on the ceiling. The original toy was fit with miniature buttons to control the color patterns of the lights. The new 3D-printed switch is easy to press and cycles through the original options.

Samalonis conducts the 'hacking' activity through his 3D printing and rehabilitation class. Once the toys are complete, they are donated through TechOWL, Pennsylvania's Assistive Technology Act program.

Students like Emily Betchyk were able to develop drilling and soldering skills.

"Especially with this class, you're able to learn and adaptive ways of how to help people, too," she said. "So, it's kind of like a different way of thinking about providing health care."

To learn more about Jefferson College of Rehabilitation Sciences or TechOWL, visit their websites.

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