Mon, Mar 02, 2009
The Straits Times
'Jellybeans' connect with some kids

By Jalelah Abu Baker

BUBBLE machines, remote control cars and train sets might be child's play, but there are many children who find it a challenge just to switch a battery-operated toy on.

Children who have physical and intellectual disabilities sometimes cannot operate the on/off switches on these toys.

But 120 children from the Rainbow Centre-Margaret Drive School can now play with them, thanks to a group of eight students from ITE College East.

The students from the Electrical Engineering course there put their technical skills into practice in a voluntary project, Project Assistive Technology for All, run by the Society for the Physically Disabled. The objective of the project is to provide clinical and technical solutions to people who need assistive devices.

The students replaced the tiny on/off switches on these toys with jellybean switches, a type of large round switch which allows the children to activate the toy with a slight tap of the finger.

The project was finished over June and July last year, under the supervision of lecturer Tan Kheng Heng.

'This project gave students the platform to help the less fortunate in society. It allowed them to also put their skills into practice,' he said.

The school paid $150 to modify 30 toys.

The children get about 20 minutes of playtime each school day, but previously they had to play with cause-and-effect toys meant for one- to two-year-olds, as they were unable to play with regular toys meant for their age group.

'We have to respect them. At a certain age, they have to play with toys suitable for their age, not those for younger children,' said Ms Lee Boon Kiang, head of Programme for Children with Multiple Handicaps at the school.

Eleven-year-old Sim Li Ling and 12-year-old Muhd Haikal Anwar, who have cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, now play with toys meant for children of their age group.

This will help them develop tracking and focusing skills.

Li Ling's clear favourite was the bubble machine, which she gleefully chose over the remote control car. Both toys are fitted with a wire and a jellybean switch, instead of the on/off switch.

Haikal liked the remote control car, which both the children operated together with two jellybean switches. They laughed every time the car crashed.

Iskandar Ismail, 18, who was part of the team which made the toys found his experience gratifying. 'To us, it's just a simple toy,' he said.

'To them, it's not.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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