Students Bring Joy to Disabled Kids

07/29/2008
By From the Lowell Sun

By Shawn Myrick

LOWELL -- Local campers at UMass Lowell's DesignCamp are not just turning gears and flipping switches, they are also helping others. On July 18, campers visited the Kennedy Day School in Boston to help build toys for disabled children.

"We develop a product for children who are physically or mentally challenged in some way," said Patrick McColl, instructor of the invention camp class DC HIGH TECH, "to get them to interact with some toys that would not normally be designed for them."

Kennedy Day School, a division of Franciscan Hospital for Children, teaches children with physical or mental disabilities.

Using their design skills, the campers modify everyday toys into something disabled students ages 7 to 14 can use.

"A lot of the toys are ones that have a little micro switch where the kids do not have the dexterity to manipulate it," said McColl, 43, of Lunenburg. "We open it up and rewire it."

The campers are briefed on how to design the toys. Then, they build the toys using Solid Works and bring them to the camp.

"(The campers) are shown a video ahead of time," said McColl. "We have it set up so we can go around and look at tables with the products in front of clients."

Camp Director Doug Prime created the program four years ago with the help of McColl. The pair created the trip as part of a high-school level class with in the camp called DC HIGH TECH.

"It started as a really nice way to have campers come up with a project idea," said Bonnie Paulino, program director at Kennedy Day School. "I see the benefits keep mounting."

Jean Santana and Davis Ayala, both 17 and from Lowell, visited the school for the first time this summer.

"We got to meet a lot of special kids," said Santana. "They got to play with new toys."

Santana and Ayala helped design a dancing frog with an easy-to-push button.

"Every time they clicked it, the frog would start dancing," said a grinning Santana. "They smiled every time."

The boys said they believe that both the students and designers benefited from the experience.

"It gives them independence," said Ayala.

"It made me think not to take advantage of the little things you can do," added Santana.

Paulino believes the main goal is interaction.

"It is being able to interact and treat them like any kid," said Paulino about the campers visit. "They do not use grown-up vocabulary. They say stuff like, 'That's sick ... that's sweet ... that's cool.'"

Paulino recognized one special memory of childhood interaction.

"The kids created a large switch-operated squirt gun," said a laughing Paulino. "The design campers were egging them on, and we were the targets."

There are four sessions of the DC HIGH TECH class offered from July 7 to Aug. 1. Each session ends with students visiting the Kennedy Day School.

The next and final visit of the summer is Friday.

"It is wonderful," added Paulino. "I hope it goes on for years to come."