Modifying toys to bring joy to all

A postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Lab uses a 3D printer and wiring knowledge to make sure toys are accessible for children with disabilities

November 30, 2023

A commercial toy adapted by Jonathan Reynolds.

For the second consecutive year, Jonathan Reynolds, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is doing his part for the Holiday Toy Drive by making adaptive toys to help ensure children and youth with disabilities can enjoy a toy they may not otherwise be able to play with. 

Making toys is Reynolds’ way of participating in the Laboratory’s Holiday Toy Drive — part of this year’s Holiday Giving Campaign, which is currently underway. Last year, the campaign raised $2.7 million to help Northern New Mexico communities, including approximately $24,000 and more than 200 toys for the Toy Drive.

“I started creating adaptive toys a year ago. Just prior to that, I purchased a 3D printer and began making adaptive switches and accessibility tools to support people through the nonprofit website Makers Making Change,” he said.

Playing with toys is, of course, fun, but it is also an important part of childhood development. Often those with disabilities cannot use commercial toys as they were originally designed. For example, they might struggle to press a small button to activate an electronic toy.

“I make toys and adaptive devices because I love helping people,” said Reynolds. “Creating and donating adaptive toys is one way creatives can help support differently abled kids and families, in addition to providing some financial relief, no matter the amount. I can make a 3D-printed version for less than $5 depending on where I get the audio plugs.”

Jonathan Reynolds

Adaptive toys can be purchased through a range of outlets, but they are often significantly more expensive and there are fewer options available.

How adaptive toys are made

Most toys can be adapted, depending on your comfort level and ability with electronics. Once an appropriate toy has been chosen, the next step is to buy or create an adaptive switch and then open the toy to locate where the switch needs to be.

Adapting simple on/off switches can be straightforward by cutting the wires and adding them to a new switch that’s easier to use. Toys with more interactions can have more complex circuitry, so Reynolds recommends identifying toys that match your skills.

Other challenges can include dealing with poor quality wiring and matching the correct gauge of wire so the toy’s functionality is maintained.

Give however makes sense

Reynolds uses his skills to adapt toys and make devices for Makers Making Change and its local chapter Nexus Abilities, but he’s aware not everyone can help in the same way.

“As we enter this giving season, we should reflect on how all kids with different abilities can benefit from toy drives,” he said. “If that means buying toys, please do so. If it means donating to a charity that works in this area, please do so. If that means adapting toys, especially if you have the skills and access to a 3D printer, please do that.”

Looking for a helpful resource for interested beginners who need tips on adapting toys? Check out this open-source document for help.