Modified toys bring special kind of joy

Ashfaq Ahmad Mohammed Ismail, nine, playing with a modified bubble-blowing machine at the SG50 Hack-A-Toy! event at the Rainbow Centre's Margaret Drive School yesterday.
Ashfaq Ahmad Mohammed Ismail, nine, playing with a modified bubble-blowing machine at the SG50 Hack-A-Toy! event at the Rainbow Centre's Margaret Drive School yesterday.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

DSO engineers 'hack' existing toys to suit children with special needs

A group of children with special needs yesterday got to try out specially "hacked", or customised, toys ranging from remote-controlled cars to bubble-blowing machines.

The toys, which were purchased from stores, were modified by defence research organisation DSO National Laboratories, and presented to the children at an event called SG50 Hack-A-Toy! at the Rainbow Centre's Margaret Drive School.

Central District Mayor Denise Phua, who attended the event, said: "I'm thankful that the engineers have used their skills to help the special-needs community."

CHEAPER TOYS

Hacking makes them more accessible and more affordable.

MS HANNAH LEONG, head of Engineering Good, a non-profit group that helps the disadvantaged with engineering projects

She added that she hoped more organisations would follow the example of DSO, which took up the challenge as part of its corporate social responsibility programme.

Six researchers from DSO worked for two months to modify 50 toys, to make them easier for children with special needs to play with.

For example, joysticks for remote-controlled cars were replaced with colourful buttons, while a small lever to switch on a bubble-blowing machine was replaced with a large button on a wired remote control.

Ms Hannah Leong, 29, president of Engineering Good, a non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged communities with engineering projects, said toys for special needs children are often expensive, and difficult to find. "Hacking makes them more accessible and more affordable."

DSO senior researcher Lee Tong, 32, said the team underestimated how much effort would be required to hack the toys.

"We are not experts with toys," said Mr Lee, adding that there were some challenges in transferring his skills in defence engineering to modifying toys.

The Rainbow Centre operates two schools that cater for children with a variety of special needs, including Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and cerebral palsy. Ms Fauziah Ahmad, 50, principal of the Margaret Drive School, said: "We hope that this cooperation can continue, and more toys can be adapted for our children to play and enjoy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'Modified toys bring special kind of joy'. Print Edition | Subscribe