Learning is limitless with switch-adapted toys


Photo by Sam Sarma

With the guidance of Maker Nexus instructors, Lynbrook student volunteers created switch-adapted toys by soldering and connecting wires to larger external buttons.

Sam Sarma, News Editor

Children begin their education with toys: learning the different senses, the alphabet, colors and more. For children and adults with motor disabilities, small switches on electronic toys limit their access to education and development. The student-run organization Limitless Learning has set out to aid people with disabilities in their access to equitable learning tools through switch-adapted toy workshops. 

Limitless Learning is a nonprofit organization founded by junior Riya Abiram in January. Inspired by her grandfather’s traumatic brain injury, Abiram founded Limitless Learning with the mission to make switch-adapted toys — toys that have been rerouted to larger switches — determined to make technology and education more accessible for people with disabilities. 

“I observed him really struggling to do most basic tasks, so I was researching ways to make the day-to-day equipment we use more accessible, and that’s when I came across switch-adapting toys,” Abiram said.

Through workshops held once a month at Maker Nexus in Sunnyvale, Limitless Learning welcomes anyone with an interest in serving disabled people with switch-adapted toys. The first two workshops were held on April 2 and 23, respectively, and most attendees were Lynbrook students. Attendees soldered and rerouted the wiring of the electronic components of toys to connect larger buttons externally, using materials and instructions provided by Abiram and RePlay for Kids, a larger partner organization of Limitless Learning. Most attendees learned on the job, taught by Maker Nexus instructors. 

“The first workshop we held was the first time I did any soldering or switch adapting,” junior and Limitless Learning secretary Freya Ishizaki said. “It’s not necessary to know how to do either before joining.”

The two workshops produced a total of 30 adapted toys, including musical giraffe guitars, remote-controlled cars and night lights. These toys primarily go to the Morgan Autism Center, where they are given to children, as well as Greater Learning, an adult learning center.

“People with disabilities use toys into their adulthood,” Abiram said. “They are used for development, not only for playing.”

Switch-adapted toys provide education disguised as fun, a vital tool to the development of motor skills for individuals with special needs. Being successful in controlling an element of their environment encourages those who find difficulty with motor skills to continue attempting to learn. It also fosters childrens’ confidence in their own abilities and immerses them in activities able-bodied children can participate in, helping to form community connections. 

“Having an organization like Limitless Learning really brings special needs people back into an inclusive community,” said Allison Wu, sophomore and the secretary and treasurer of Viking Buddies. “There’s a stigma around special needs kids, especially at school, and it causes them to feel like a whole other group. In reality, special needs kids, especially in your own age group, have the same interests as you. It might be harder to communicate with them, so I think having an organization to help them bridge that gap and make a connection will definitely help.”

The next workshop will be in May and is open to all students. Limitless Learning is also looking for toy donations to be switch-adapted at workshops. 

 “People with special needs are excluded in their everyday lives, and toys are not typically made to be easy to use and accessible for everyone,” Ishizaki said. “Switch-adapting toys helps them be included.”