Toy Hack Event in Phoenix helps Children with Disabilities

February 11, 2020

This December, our Phoenix Chapter of Makers Making Change (new window) hosted their first Adapted Toy Hack. The event took place at the Arizona Science Center (new window) on Dec 14th 2019 and it was a huge hit! Over the course of the Toy Hack event event, 18 makers adapted 20 toys and (6 switches) which were distributed at 3 organizations in the Phoenix area: Accel Schools (new window)Joni and Friends (new window) and Highlands Church (new window).

participants at the toy hack

What is a Toy Hack?

Many toys have built-in standard switches, which are difficult for children with motor control challenges to use. In order to make a toy more accessible for kids with disabilities, makers can perform a’ toy hack’ by re-wiring the electricity and adding a simple headphone jack.

Access switches are available for a range of motor functions. Switches can be plugged into the headphone jack to allow children to turn on the toys and play with it more easily.

Access switches are very costly devices. A typical commercial switch costs about $75, which can be unaffordable to many people who do not have adequate insurance or for those who are low income. Makers Making Change has a library of open source assistive devices (new window) that are more affordable through open source designs and volunteer makers! A list of the open source toy hacks we have are available here (new window)

a toy being hacked

Engaging Phoenix Students in Assistive Device Design

As an Occupational Therapist working for the Arizona Center for Comprehensive Education and Life Skills(ACCEL (new window)),Matt Levac sees the need for affordable custom assistive devices on a daily basis. This need for affordable assistive technology exists not only in schools, but also in the greater community. This is why Matt Levac  Makers volunteers to lead a Makers Making Change chapter in Phoenix. Learn more about chapters here! (new window)

At ACCEL, Matt helps students with disabilities learn, play and socialize to the best of their abilities. To aid this process, Matt creates custom assistive devices for students himself, but also engages talented makers from the local BioScience High School (new window). Every year, Matt oversees a senior internship program from BioScience, who work with ACCEL students to create custom AT projects. Matt also oversees a group of juniors engineering students who create accessible games for the annual ACCEL school wide field day called “ACCEL days”.

Matt Levac

In addition to working with the local high school, Matt also works with capstone students at the local Grand Canyon University (new window) in the engineering program to create AT in his classroom. Currently the GCU Biomedical Engineering Society (new window) is prototyping ipad cases and keyguards to work with student AAC (new window)’s software. Keyguards (new window) are vital in allowing students the ability to access communicationMatt  “…believes strongly that engaging Makers to create AT is a highly efficient way to ensure all students have access to the necessary AT they need.”

In addition to his work with ACCEL, Matt is also completed a Graduate Certificate from Northern Arizona University (new window) in Assistive Technology.  As part of his own capstone, Matt is incorporating his MMC Chapter into his project.

With this resume no wonder Matt became a Chapter Leader with MMC!

Growing the Phoenix Chapter

Since starting the Phoenix Makers Making Change Chapter, Matt’s been in conversations with Daniel Frank (ASU Engineering Professor) and Jessica Hickey (Arizona Science Center). Both, are keen to become partners for the local chapter.

One goal Matt would like to integrate MMC into the Chief Science Officer program (new window). The CSO program is part of the SciTech Ecosystem (new window) which is a nationally run non profit that is at the forefront of promoting STEM. Matt is also in touch with the Arizona Assistive Technology State Program. They are looking to host a toy hack events for AT professionals. I will also be working with Arizona State University (new window) by consulting on AT projects they are building in their engineering course. Matt’s goal is to further bridge the gap between Makers, AT professionals and AT users.

If you’d like to hear more about what Matt is up to with creating assistive technology in Phoenix, check out  the Talking with Tech Podcast  (new window)where he discusses ‘Partnering with Students to Make New Assistive Technology’ with Dave Reno of Adapt Shop (new window).

Join Makers Making Change Phoenix!

Volunteer as a Maker:

  • Volunteer your skills in 3D printing, 3D modelling, laser cutting, designing, soldering, problem solving, event planning, community organizing
  • Attend a build event!
  • Help people in your community to live more independently
  • Submit your assistive device designs to our open source library
  • Explore new skills/possible career paths and make for a purpose
  • Be a part of  a new community model of assistive device distribution

Request a Device:

  • Request a device for only the cost of materials(and shipping)
  • Make connections to people who care in your community
  • Help innovate the way we deliver and create assistive technology

Sign up now!

Go to (new window) and sign up! Make sure to click to sign up for our mailing list so you can also hear about events and workshops.

  • Activate your account. Make sure to check your junk mail and click ‘not junk/mark as safe’ so you can receive our communications
  • Fill out your skills and interests and add a profile photo if you like!
  • Request a Device from our Projects Library. (new window) Browse or Search the library, and when you find a device you need,click ‘request’ and type in details in the form. When we receive your request, we will do our best to match you up with a volunteer maker!

This post originally appeared on our Makers Making Change website (new window).