Not just child's play

Nadeera Othman, who suffers from meningitis and is visually impaired, uses a doorbell button to activate a singing toy bear.

Mr Abdul Rahman Ahmad grew up in Bedok South, where many of his neighbours were poor and not highly educated.

Now, the 24-year-old, who is studying at the National University of Singapore, is using his knowledge in civil engineering to help children with disabilities.

Working as a student volunteer at the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) Labs, he designed a remote-controlled car which can easily be used by children with muscular dystrophy, meningitis and cerebral palsy.

After visiting the children at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, he saw how the children felt upset and left out when they could not play with the same toys as their peers.

One of the children he spoke to there said he wished he could play with a remote-controlled car. So Mr Abdul Rahman decided to help fulfil his wish.

He designed a remote control with four big buttons so that children who have movement or muscular difficulties can easily tap it to control the toy car.

Mr Abdul Rahman said: "They want to be able to play with simple toys... After seeing them smile, you immediately forget what you've been through and how hard it was."

His toy car succeeded in putting a smile on the face of Malcolm Yew Kai, 14, who has muscular dystrophy, and has trouble handling the small buttons on typical remote controls.

Malcolm said: "It is very hard for me to play with toys... But this remote-controlled toy car makes me very happy."

Mr Abdul Rahman's product is not the only one helping children with disabilities.

Engineering Good, a non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged communities by using engineering solutions, is collaborating with IDA Labs to come up with innovative products which can be used to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

They are inviting people to send in ideas on innovative products which can help such children.


Engineering Good, previously known as Engineers Without Borders, produced re-engineered toys which are much easier to use for children at the Asian Women's Welfare Association (Awwa) School.

One of its students, Nadeera Othman, 17, suffers from meningitis and is visually impaired. She has difficulties switching on the toys she had as she cannot find the little switch at the bottom of the toys.

Most times, Nadeera gives up in frustration.

But Engineering Good came up with the idea of using toys with much bigger buttons.

And rather than pay up to $100 for such big buttons, they decided to use big doorbell and light buttons which cost less than $5. All the engineer has to do was rewire the electronic toy such that it can be switched on using the new big button.

Nadeera can now find the start button of a teddy bear within five seconds and can easily press it to hear the toy bear sing.

Even daily activities such as flag-raising at the school are made easier thanks to Engineering Good. The school's local programmes coordinator, Ms Yeap Pei Lee, 29, said: "We are helping to motorise the flag-raising and lowering process so that it can be done at the push of a button.

"This would empower students who are more cognitively aware but cannot participate in flag-raising due to their physical limitations."

Awwa school principal Ruby Seah, 54, felt this gives the children a sense of pride and patriotism. "It is good for the engineers to use their skills to help these children and empower them in their daily lives," Mrs Seah said.

This article was first published on September 21, 2015.
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