Janet Peabody, with her son Matthew Nethercot by her side, works away at the adaptation of a light-up, spinning toy — soldering wires together and reading a booklet of instructions.
Nethercot has a disability and Peabody said finding toys that her son can play with is not always easy.
Many toys have tiny buttons or switches that make them difficult for children with disabilities to use.
Makers Making Change, a Neil Squire Society program that helps develop and deliver affordable assistive technologies, held a Hacking for the Holidays event in Fredericton on Friday, the day before the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
The event allowed volunteers to come and adapt toys in time for the holidays. Families of children with disabilities, occupational therapists and other community members showed up, with the organization providing the toys and the tools.
Peabody said that when Nethercot was younger, there were plenty of baby toys with big buttons.
"They get to an age where you don't want to buy them baby toys, like he's 14, he doesn't want a baby toy for Christmas," said Peabody. "Even though that's physically what he can play with, mentally that's not what he should be playing with."
Adapted toys can be pricey
On top of that, Peabody said the adapted toys on the market are expensive.
Courtney Cameron, the regional coordinator for Makers Making Change, said switch-adapted toys on the market can easily go for $100 or more per toy.
She said the organization has a good relationship with the New Brunswick Premier's Council on Disabilities and they've done events in Fredericton through that partnership before. Friday marked the first time a Hacking for the Holidays event was held in the province's capital.
This year, she said, the group has a goal of adapting 500 toys across Canada for the holidays. Usually, around 150 are made for the Atlantic provinces.
The goal for Fredericton's event was 40 toys that can be donated.
The Makers Making Change program primarily focuses through the year on making assistive devices, and now, Cameron said, they have around 180 of them. She said they are always listening to the community about what devices are needed, which is how they discovered the need for more switch-adapted toys.
"We do a variety of devices and fill a variety of needs, and it really is just based on community feedback," said Cameron.
Lise Bleau, an occupational therapist specializing in assistive technology at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation on the neuromotor pediatric team, said she wanted to help adapt toys because she knows their value for children and their families.
"The power of technology is opening worlds and possibilities for a lot of children," said Bleau.
'That's what is kind of exciting'
The toy she was working on had a tiny button, but by adding a 3D-printed adapted switch, it would allow more children to use it.
Spinning toys, talking and walking animal toys, remote control cars — as the event went on, the pile of finished toys under the Christmas tree grew.
Cameron said the results of the event were "amazing" and they have plenty of toys to donate.
The children with disabilities also got to take their adapted toys home with them.
Peabody said birthdays and Christmas can be tough when it comes to finding toys for Nethercot, so she said while this event served as a learning opportunity about what goes into adapting the toys, it also let them take their hard work home.
"He will be going home with a toy. And I'm sure his brother will love it. But it is going to be Matthew's. And that's what is kind of exciting," said Peabody.
"[It's] an opportunity for Matthew to experience an event that is about him and for him. There's not a lot of events that are specifically for children with disabilities."