UW-Platteville's Toy Hack: Bringing Adaptive Toys to KidsCommunity Happenings | Posted on December 29, 2022
The annual Toy Hack workshop hosted by Harold (Hal) Evensen, Professor of Engineering Physics at UW-Platteville, brings a talented group of students together to modify toys, making them accessible for children with disabilities.
The idea to bring the Toy Hack to UW-Platteville began with Hal’s desire to become closer to his nephew with autism, leading him to volunteer at Camp AweSum, a family respite camp for kids on the spectrum. The opportunity to work with the kids, students and staff is what first opened his eyes to the challenges of families with special needs, “there’s a lot of work involved in some sense, but also a lot of joy”.
Inspiration to combine his passion for helping kids with his engineering expertise came when Hal attended a presentation on Ohio State University’s Toy Hack. “I was very intrigued because it seemed like an intellectual challenge to ‘crack open’ a toy, figure out how it works, and modify it. It was clearly a way to meet a need and use my knowledge to do good. Adapted toys exist, but they are very expensive and few in number. I also saw this as something my students might enjoy, both on an intellectual level and in the sense of giving something back to the community.”
The idea came to fruition in the fall of 2018, when a student came to Hal for a project to increase credits before graduating. Through the work of Hal and his student, the Toy Hack was brought to the UW-Platteville campus.
As much as Hal enjoys giving back to kids with special needs, he feels equal joy in being able to provide the space for his students to do the same. “They really do love the challenge and doing good for others - in most cases, kids they’ve never met! We’ve been doing this long enough that I have four-year veterans of the Toy Hack. Students now start asking me about it before I’ve even begun planning this year’s event.”
Hal started out contacting individual families, clinics, and classrooms. However, high enthusiasm from students quickly built up a large supply of modified toys, creating the need to reach even more families. “I came to realize that organizations such as Variety - which touch many families - are a valuable way to reach our target audience, and to have more of an impact. In 2021, I visited the Variety Holiday Party for the first time. This was very rewarding, as I only rarely got to see the kids interacting with the toys. You could see their happiness as they realized they could ‘fire up this toy!’ I’m thrilled that this year, we adapted more toys than ever, allowing us to bring toys to each of the three holiday parties around the state! Getting the toys out there, making contact with families & kids who can make use of them - that’s the ultimate goal of this project, and I’m very happy to be working with Variety to make this a reality!”
We are so grateful to be able to provide Variety families with accessible toys for the second year through our Holiday Party for the Kids and Holiday Toy Shop. Thank you, Hal Evensen, UW-Plattville and the many students volunteers for giving Variety kids gifts made for them.
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