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Volunteers at Cleveland VA Medical Center modify toys for children with disabilities

CLEVELAND-- Toys like Tickle Me Elmo provide joy for millions of children, but some youngsters are unable to play with the popular toys because of disabilities.

That’s why a group of talented volunteers at the Cleveland VA Medical Center spent Friday afternoon making alterations to dozens of battery-operated toys.

"It's nice to know that you know that kids who may have some sort of disabilities and may not be able to play with all of these toys, it will give them something that they can enjoy and have fun with," biomedical engineer Kevin Foglyano told Fox 8.

The work, supervised by a group of top-notch engineers, involves bypassing the circuits inside the toys and connecting them with a variety of switches or buttons that can be easily activated.

"Right now, I have to disassemble the remote, and then I have to take some wire and solder and work on the electronics on the inside, which that will be the difficult part for me to figure out. But I have lots of folks here to help me and encourage me to do it," said Tayna Taylor, a nurse.

The RePlay for Kids workshop is the brainchild of a research engineer at Case Western Reserve University, who was intrigued by a request to modify toys. Stories about how the toys have inspired children with disabilities serve as a motivation for the program.

"(One student) would bring in one of his new toys into the class, and his able-bodied peers would come up and play with him because they liked that toy too. And they would just be laughing together and you know, it's inclusion the way it's supposed to be," Bill Memberg said.

The newly-adapted toys will now be sent to 30 agencies in 11 northern Ohio counties that serve children with special needs.

The VA volunteers said their primary motivation is putting a smile on a child's face.

"Knowing that it's going to a child Christmas morning, they're going to have something that they can play with, play with their siblings or play by themselves, that's such a great feeling,” said research fellow Brooke Odle.