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Sunday February 14th, 2016 7:48AM

UGA students, including Gainesville freshman, make toys for kids with disabilities

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- A half-dozen children got some special early Christmas presents from a University of Georgia class this month.

For at least one of the children, the gift seemed to be a game changer.

The toy recipients live with motor disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to do things that most take for granted, such as operating an on-off button to a dancing Mickey Mouse doll.

Made by 16 UGA freshmen for a class in "assistive technology," the toys specifically made for the children came with adapted controls bigger and easier to use than the original switches.

Seeing their children play with toys made just for them brought some parents to tears.

"I'm touched," said April Moss of Woodstock, who watched with husband Clint Moss as their daughter Ari, 3, was entranced with her new toy - a board with soft plastic turning gears and colorful flashing lights.

Ari has very little muscle control, but with an adapted on-off switch made from a CD case, Ari could smack the switch to activate the toy and watch if come to life.

"For her to be able to do something functional, for her to be able to do that; this is very exciting," April Moss said.

More than just brightening the faces of six area children, the UGA freshmen who adapted the toys learned some useful skills, said Shannon Lightfoot of Gainesville.

"I learned how to solder and strip wires, and how to reconfigure a circuit board," said the student studying advertising and romance languages.

"(The class) really hit a chord with me. A couple of people in my family have disabilities and I love little kids," Lightfoot said of the course called Geeks With a Cause.

Bobby Alaimo of Gainesville took the class because it seemed more hands-on than other courses on UGA's Freshman Odyssey slate. In their first semester, all UGA freshmen are required to take one of the dozens of Odyssey classes, which pair up freshmen in small groups with UGA faculty teaching something they find interesting.

"I didn't want to sit in a classroom setting," said Alaimo, a statistics major.

Specially-adapted toys for children with motor disabilities can be expensive, easily $80 to $100, said Rebecca Brightwell, who taught the course with Zoe Stoneman, director of the Institute on Human Development and Disability at UGA.

But home-made solutions can often be cheap and easy, said Brightwell, who also conducts day-long workshops for professionals, parents and anyone else interested in low-cost adaptive technology.

Participants can learn how to make such things as a low-cost equivalent of a Smart Board, or knob extensions for a stove or washing machine using parts they can find at a hardware or electronics store.

Brightwell plans to conduct sessions on do-it-yourself assistive technology on Jan. 22 and March 12 in Athens. For more information, contact her at (706) 542-6061 or bbrightw(at)uga.edu.

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