Service projects are often linear: donate money, time or talent toward a specific cause to make an impact. They can also teach additional, more holistic lessons: in humility, compassion or empathy for another's lived experience.
Students from Temple Prosthetics & Orthotics (TemPO) along with fellow engineering students joined TechOWL, an Assistive Technology Act program that serves the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, recently for a workshop that seems to have satisfied many of those lessons.
The group created switches to craft free, adaptive toys for children with disabilities in Pennsylvania. According to Tom Diagostino, TechOWL Outreach and Training Coordinator and adjunct professor, the workshop started long before the assembly in early-December.
"Last year, we worked with TemPO on a project for an individual. At the end of the semester, they wanted to do a workshop. I suggested making switches because we were looking for a skills-based workshop that we could do remotely that would also benefit our consumers," Diagostino added. "We were looking for something that had a real impact that would draw people in."
The team also spoke with an occupational therapist at CHOP, who reached out to ask if any adapted toy programs existed in Pennsylvania.
"We didn't know of any, so we figured we could create one," Diagostino said.
The groups partnered with the College of Engineering, Charles Library, as well as the Franklin Institute to 3-D print parts for the switches, and created an Amazon registry that was shared on social media to solicit toy donations. They also sought "customers" for the toys on social media, as well as through outreach to local schools and hospitals like Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Children and Adult Disability and Educational Services, a Swarthmore-based nonprofit that serves individuals with disabilities.
"Switch-adapted toys can be very expensive, and every kid deserves to have toys that they can play with, especially around the holidays. So that was our ultimate goal," Diagostino said. He added that a welcome byproduct was working with the engineering students in "sharing the joy of adapting with them."
"The more students we teach about accessibility, the more that accessibility will be a part of product development and technology in the future. It was also an opportunity to educate the greater public about what we do at TechOWL and the possibilities of 3D printing."
In total, about 80 switch-adapted toys will be delivered in total. The battery interrupters and switches can also be used with other battery-operated toys, and the group created videos and PDFs to explain to families how they can use their tools with other toys as well.
Though much of the prep work was done remotely, collaboration and problem-solving was sparked by gathering in-person, and supported by generous support from Temple and off-campus partners, alike.
"We couldn't have done this project without those generous donations," Diagostino said. "Big thanks also to Makers Making Change who created the file for the 3-D printed switch, and thanks to our front desk rockstar Michael who helped us make sure we got all our many, many Amazon packages."
To learn more about TemPO, visit https://temple.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/tempo. To learn more about TechOWL, visit https://techowlpa.org.