Thursday, January 14, 2010

Universally Designed Toys Offer Fun and Access for All

by Tenley McDonald

When you think of toys, your first thoughts might be of dolls or blocks or little red trucks. If your child has a disability, however, you might want to first think of universal design. It’s a term that refers to products and environments that are created to be used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation. A puzzle with large knobs, for example, could be enjoyed by a typically developing 2-year-old as well as by a toddler who has difficulty grasping small objects. Strategically and universally designed toys can engage children of all learning styles and abilities. They also can promote learning, inclusion, and social skills.

How can you find a universally designed toy for your child? Here are some questions to ask.

• Is the toy appealing? Does it have texture or bright colors? Does it respond with lights, sounds, or

movement? Texture, bright colors, sounds, and lights add multi-sensory appeal to the toy.

• How is the toy activated? How much force is required to set it in motion? The toy should be easy to

use and require little strength.

• Where will the toy be used? Can it be used in different locations and positions, such as on a

wheelchair tray or on the bed when your child is lying down? If a child has limited mobility, the toy

should offer such flexibility.

• Is the toy adjustable? Can the volume level, height, speed, or level of difficulty be changed? Toys

with adjustable features may appeal to your child longer.

• Is the toy safe and durable? Will it easily break or become damaged? Can it be washed and cleaned?

A toy that is easily damaged or has small parts is not suitable for a young child.

• Does the toy promote development? Does the child participate actively when using the toy? Toys that

encourage imagination, stimulate interaction, and promote social play support a child’s development.

PACER’s Simon Technology Center (STC) has several publications that can help families learn more about universally designed toys. STC staff also recommend the following Web sites for more information about toys for children with disabilities.

• The Let’s Play Project ( provides information about finding and selecting toys for

children with disabilities, adapting toys to make them easier to use, and identifying other resources to

promote play.

• The National Lekotek Center ( offers special play and learning centers where children

with disabilities can have fun with traditional toys, adapted toys, books, and computers. Its Web site

provides many resources on how to select appropriate toys for your child as well where to find a

Lekotek Center near you.

All children learn by doing and playing. By choosing universally designed toys, you are giving your child the opportunity for communication, self-expression, learning, inclusion, and success.

For more information on universally designed toys, please call PACER Center at 952-838-9000 and ask for Tenley in the Simon Technology Center.

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