Products designed for the mass market, especially toys, can leave children with extraordinary needs unable to use them; products created using inclusive design principles can limit the intention of the design by altering original design parameters to become as wide as possible so that users with a range of abilities can use them. In contrast, designing for lead users with disabilities by focusing on a select group of people with extraordinary needs can drive design forward for a less specific population. Undergraduate engineering students from the University of Minnesota Duluth designed toys to meet the unique developmental needs of such a lead user, a child with hemiplegic cerebral palsy (CP). By focusing on the extreme needs of one specific child, the students designed toys that were engaging for the lead user as well as the preschoolers.
Three toys were prototyped using 3D printing and woodworking techniques and given to the lead user, age 4, as well as a group of children from a local daycare center, ages 16 to 33 months. The duration of each child’s interactions with the toys as well as the number of children able to accomplish the intended functions of the toys were tracked. The lead user accomplished 6 of the 9 total functions designed for the toys, 4 of which while using two hands. Additionally, the lead user accomplished 4 functions that under 50% of the daycare children accomplished. In general, the daycare center children played with the toys longer than the lead user. The toys engaged all the children in play that encouraged two-handed fine motor development, a challenge for children with hemiplegic CP.