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TOYS, DISABILITY, INTEGRATION

All children undoubtedly have a right to play ...but if we wish to give a toy as a present to a disabled child, will it be easy to find something suitable?

Disabled children can normally use toys that are on the market, but occasionally, use of these products is either restricted or impossible. When a toy cannot be used by these children as it stands, one option is to alter the aims or rules of play, and another is to make adjustments, which can either be very simple (e.g. fixing the toy to a base using velcro) or require specialised intervention (e.g. converting sound effects into visual effects).

There are several different types and degrees of disability, which makes it extremely difficult to lay down general rules regarding how to choose and adjust toys for this type of person. Nevertheless, we have set out a series of simple guidelines below that may be of some help.

General guidelines for choosing and adapting toys for disabled children

»It should be a 'design for all', so that both disabled and non-disabled children can use the same toys in similar conditions. In this way, disabled children can play with able-bodied children, reducing the differences between them by using standard toys.

»Toys should be versatile, enabling different types of interaction to take place, or allowing rules to be changed in order to adjust the toy to each case.

»Toys should be suited to the age group, even though the child may be at an earlier stage of development. For example, with a manipulation activity centre for a ten-year-old child with motor disability, we would adjust the size and play theme, since those used for babies would probably be of little interest. .

»We need to ensure that adjustments comply with safety rules for toy manufacture and do not introduce hazards. Consulting a specialist is therefore essential.

»Occasionally, disabled children may have different learning curves from other children, which is why it is important to question and adjust instructions according to age.

TOYS FOR DISABLED CHILDREN

In the following sections, we offer some tips regarding choice of toys and some suggestions for their adjustment, taking into account three types of disability: motor, auditory and visual.

TOYS FOR CHILDREN WITH MOTOR DISABILITY

Selection tips
»Children should be able to control the motor functions involved in handling them.
»Buttons and knobs should be accessible and easy to use.
»Parts should be easy to assemble or fit together.
»Large toys (e.g. kitchens, work benches, etc.) should either be able to accommodate a wheelchair, or allow for easy separation into modules that can be used on a surface.
»Children should be able to make full use of the toy.
»Toys for use on table tops should have a non-slip base.
»They should not require great speed of movements, or it should be possible to alter reaction times.
»They should not require the child to perform simultaneous movements (e.g. pressing two keys at the same time).

Suggestions for making adjustments
»Secure the bases of the toys (with velcro, magnets, clamps, etc.) to prevent unwanted movements during play.
»Alter dolls' dresses to make them easier to handle (e.g. with velcro in the seams).
»Make parts, handles and knobs larger, to make them easier to grasp and handle.
»Fit head rests and safety harnesses or belts in order to maintain the right posture.
»Add ropes or rods to make it easier to pull toys along.
»Modify toy dimensions (height, depth, etc.) to enable access from the front.
»Add protruding parts (plugs, levers, rings, etc.) to make it easier to turn or grasp parts of the toy.
»Adjust the toy so that it can be activated using an external switch.

TOYS FOR CHILDREN WITH AUDITORY DISABILITY

Selection tips
»Toys with sound should have volume control and optional headphone socket, to adapt them to whatever vestige of hearing the child may have.
»If the toy has sound effects, these should be accompanied by other effects that these children are able to perceive (lights, images, vibrations, etc.).
»To avoid the need for extra fittings, we should consult a specialist to help us choose the right toy depending on the type of hearing aid used by the child.

Suggestions for making adjustments

»Adjust the toy, so that both headphones and the normal sound channel can be used simultaneously, enabling the toy to be shared by children with or without auditory disability.
»Fit electronic devices that convert sound effects into other effects that the child can perceive, amplify the vibrations produced by the toy's sound effects, or amplify sound effects.
»Convert oral messages into written ones.

TOYS FOR CHILDREN WITH VISUAL DISABILITY

Selection tips
»Toys should have a simple and realistic design that is easily identified by touch.
»They should include objects and parts that are easy to handle.
»They should have sound effects and different textures.
»They should not include too many small parts or at least the parts should be quick and easy to classify by touch.
»They should have vivid and contrasting colours, so that children with some vestige of vision can perceive them.
»They should be compact and not fall apart easily.

Suggestions for making adjustments
»Texts or instructions should be translated into Braille or raised, or replaced with voice recordings.
»Add sound, raised surfaces or textures, to replace or accompany visual stimuli.
»When using board games, the board should have raised parts and the counters or pieces made more secure (with velcro, protruding parts, etc.), to prevent them being moved involuntarily.
»When using toys for symbolic play with several parts, it can be a good idea to stick them together to prevent them from falling apart.

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