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GRCC Occupational Therapy Assistant students partnering with area schools, community partners to adapt toys for children with disabilities

Oct. 1, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Students in Grand Rapids Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program are helping Allegan area children learn as they play.

Last spring, the OTA program partnered with the Allegan Area Educational Service Agency and the Van Buren Intermediate School District to provide adaptive toys for children with complex disabilities.

“The Adapted Toy Project provides the GRCC OTA program with the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they are learning in class to a ‘real-life" problem,’ said Robin Pegg, a professor who coordinates the program’s field work.

“Finding the solution to the problem benefits everyone by providing the GRCC students the opportunity to use clinical reasoning skills and the kids with a toy that was designed to meet their specific needs. We are very thankful to our community partners. As our students learn, the community benefits.”

Each OTA student was matched with a child and received a profile of the child’s disabilities. Working with battery-operated toys donated by Goodwill Industries, the GRCC students modified them so the children are able to play with them.

“We’re adapting it and changing it and modifying it, so that they will be able to play with it,” OTA student Betsy Bell said in a GRCC video. 

“We’re just trying to incorporate textures or magnifying anything that’s important on the toy,” OTA student Madi McCartney said. “Figuring out the best way to do that is kind of like the creative process of what we’re trying to do.”

Bell made the small buttons on top of a remote-controlled car larger so a child with limited use of his arms can play with it. McCartney was paired with a 2-year-old who was hesitant to touch objects, so she altered a toy by adding a switch that works when a hand hovers over it. A GRCC grant purchased switches, adaptors and other equipment for the project.

The OTA students recently began delivering the adapted toys to the children and are able to see them in action immediately.

“My kids love to play,” teacher Janet Brooks said. “They love to control their environment, and so they’re just wanting that human connection with us, and that’s all we want to give them. So having this program and this opportunity to give these toys kind of fills that void and gives them a chance to be able to connect with us on another level.”

Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 – Michigan’s first community college -- and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.