Hack a Toy for the Holidays (Yes You Can)

Adapt a battery-powered toy for a special child in your life. Here’s how to get started with choosing and hacking toys to be switch accessible.

A plush toy monkey holding a banana
Cuddle Barn’s Banana Boat Bruno is easy to adapt

In Another Kind of Santa’s Workshop, I promised this follow-up post to empower readers to hack their own toys. Below are resources to get you started: how to choose a toy to adapt, and how to make or buy what you need to create a switch-accessible gift.

Browse Toys Easy to Adapt

What might your child like? Consider … is a toy too loud for a child sensitive to sound? Will lights hold your child’s attention? Is there a toy that could facilitate a child’s participation with their siblings?

Here’s a list of toys easy to adapt compiled by the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program (SCATP):

Flappy the Elephant
Zoom Tubes Car Trax
Rusty Rivets – Botasaur
Zuru Robo Alive T Rex
Rusty Rivets Tiger Bot Build
Peek-a-boo Teddy Bear
Animated Plush Peek A Boo Hippo
Cuddle Barn Plush Monkey – Sings Day O
Portable AM/FM Radio
Portable Fan
Paint Art Spinner
Bubble Machine
Bubble Machine-Pink
Lantern
LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader Torch
Fisher-Price Groove & Glow Beatbo

For inspiration, also be sure to browse the adapted toy lending library of Jericho Adapts Toys. High schooler Michael Dicpinigaitis and his team have uploaded dozens of videos showing switch adapted toys in action. (They adapt and loan toys to schools on Long Island, NY. Sweet!)

Review the Two Easiest Ways to Switch Adapt Toys

Battery-operated toys are made switch accessible by installing a “battery interrupter.” Battery interrupters include the jacks that a switch plugs into to turn a toy on and off.

Some toys have a conventional on/off switch at the battery box. These are adapted with a stand-alone battery interrupter that is inserted between batteries. This battery interrupter is sometimes referred to as a “battery adapter.” Review How to Choose and Adapt Battery-Operated Toys for Use with Switches from the Kansas Assistive Technology Program (ATK). This is an excellent overview of adapting toys with a stand-alone battery interrupter in this way.   

Toys that operate with the push of a button in a plush hand or foot are adapted by wiring a battery interrupter directly into the toy. This will require a little cutting and a little sewing (to make it tidy).  Check out Switch Adapting a Toy – Super Easy on YouTube (no soldering required). Also How to Make a Switch Adapted Toy (with soldering).

Toys that have a belly button for activation are a serious challenge to adapt. ATMakers.org has instructions for adapting a Talking 123 Cookie Monster if you are ready to take on an advanced hack.

Make or Buy a Battery Interrupter

You can buy a battery interrupter from AbleNet for $15, but making your own is cheaper.

SCATP suggests this source for a 79 cent cable which can be used for both one battery interrupter and one switch, also this copper tape for under $7.00 for adapting without soldering. Soldering kits may be found on Amazon for around $15.

Instructions for making a battery interrupter adapter:

Make or Buy a Switch

The South Carolina AT Program makes switches from discarded CDs, a wonderful way to recycle those outdated 30-day software trial discs!

Switches may also be purchased for $15-$20 at Etsy from AffordableAdaptations. This Etsy vendor is additionally selling adapted toys!  You can also browse a variety of switches to purchase from AbleNet (for $65 and up) or Enabling Devices. Making a CD switch is the most affordable option.

Instructions for making switches:

Happy Holiday Hacking!