Makers Help PlayFull Potential Find Assistive Device Solution in Record Time

July 8, 2021

PlayFull Potential (opens in a new window) is a group of independent therapists — psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and a physiotherapist — who offer family support for children with disabilities in Calgary, Alberta. They largely work with pre-school and early elementary school-aged children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental needs, and work with a lot of low-income families.

“We’re a play-based group, and family oriented, so our team works with the full family through a play-based manner to support the kiddos,” says psychologist Michelle Anderson.

Some of the children they work with use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (opens in a new window) (AAC) devices. One child, who is currently non-verbal, uses a GoTalk 9+ (opens in a new window) to communicate things like “help” and “all done.”

Photo of the Go Talk 9+ device without a button guard

A GoTalk 9+ with the volume and change level buttons exposed.

“But at the top of the little GoTalk, there’s three buttons, and they change volume and they do different sounds, and those were just fascinating to him, more so than the ‘help’ or ‘all done’ [buttons], so that was becoming quite the distraction for him,” Michelle explains.

“But not being very technological or crafty, we had no idea how to limit access while still allowing us to press those buttons.”

They reached out to Makers Making Change (opens in a new window), and had their request put on the forum (opens in a new window) for makers to see. Just a few hours after the request was posted, maker James Kauppila responded with a design that was ready to print.

James’ design is a 3D-printed L-shaped button guard (opens in a new window) that goes over the volume control and change level buttons, preventing them from being pressed by a finger. With small holes printed over the buttons, the buttons can still be accessed using a pen or a pencil. Using about 6 grams of filament — about 25 cents worth — it’s inexpensive and easy to print.

The GoTalk with a red printed button guard covering the volume and level control buttons

The GoTalk with a red printed button guard.

The Makers Making Change office in Calgary printed it and dropped it off the next day. A low-tech solution, but it has made a big difference.

“It was amazing,” Michelle says. c

Learning to Make

Some of the children PlayFull Potentials works with have limited mobility, which makes it a challenge to use toys.

“We were really struggling with how do we get them, and entice them, and motivate them with toys that they actually use, and also with some of the communication devices, because they just aren’t always made for those kiddos with that limited mobility and that fine motor restriction,” Michelle says.

While they had previously heard about adaptive switches, the price for many of them on the market are prohibitively expensive.

Makers Making Change helped them find a solution — make their own. MMC hosted a virtual build with the therapists at PlayFull Potential, helping them build Round Flexure Switches (opens in a new window).

A screenshot of the virtual build over Zoom featuring the therapists at PlayFull Potential and Makers Making Change staff

A virtual build featuring the therapists at PlayFull Potential and Makers Making Change staff.

“We are not crafty people,” Michelle laughs. “It was amazing how easily and how quickly we could build, with the team of us, seven switches in I think 45 minutes.”

They also got the materials to build Raindrop Switches (opens in a new window) on their own, and learned how hack toys to be compatible with switches. Using their newfound skills — including soldering — they got right to work.

“We ended up buying a bunch of battery interrupters on Amazon that day, and then we used the solder — myself and the other psychologist while we still had them — and did a little bit of work on some toys,” she says.

“[Now] we can just bring out even more supports for some of these families.”

This post originally appeared on the Makers Making Change (opens in a new window) website.