How can blind or visually impaired children benefit from and enjoy electronic games? In one form or another this was a question that Educational Psychologists Pedro Bori and Nadia Guevara asked themselves while working with children facing such difficulties. Using their combined experience in the fields of psychology regarding cognitive development, and the help of manufacturing professionals their answer was an electronic toy they named “Smash-a-Ball.”
Currently on Kickstarter, “Smash-a-Ball” is designed especially to meet the needs of children facing visual or developmental difficulties. While the game can be played, and enjoyed, by anyone, the purpose is to provide a game that aides children in developing vital skills like coordination, response time, memory, and bolstering self-esteem.
Using tactile stimulus and a series of corresponding buttons, children try to hit the correct button as quickly as possible, or remember specific sequences. With a backpack and the possibility of a wrist band if the campaign reaches its’ funding goals, “Smash-a-Ball” provides a much needed option in the world of toys that cater to the developmental needs of children with visual and other challenges.
Guevara was kind enough to sit down to explain a bit more about the importance he places on this project as well as discuss his minor disappointment with how little backer support it seems to be generating.
Jesse Tannous: In a standard toy store, how wide of a selection of games or toys would you say are available that were designed to meet the needs and interests of visually impaired or developmentally challenged children?
Nadia Guevara: Unfortunately, we have to say, these kinds of games or toys are the less in a store, if we have to put a % we should say less than 1%, but here comes two things, one is that, specifically talking about toys or games for visual impaired and blind (VI&B) or developmentally challenged children (DCC), is almost none. However, there are some toys that are used to stimulate babies or 1-3 years old children, and sometimes, when parents can’t find a toy that is specially made for their children’s needs, they have to buy the other toys. Even if they were not created with this goal, to help with VI&B or DCC’s development, they can be a little bit helpful and for example if the toy is aimed at a 2 years old child, parents of a 5-7 years old VI&B or DCC buy for their child, however even with this option, we can say that approx. in a shop you can find less than 3% of them.
JT: What has been the most difficult part about getting support for this project? What obstacles have you been running into?
NG: We should say that the most difficult part has been right now with our campaign, because we hoped that we’ll have a better impact and a major interest unfortunately hadn’t been as we imagined, because at least with the parents and teachers of the VI&B’s feedbacks were so positive, also the feedbacks from real children who played with our prototype were 100% positive and encouraging (but we’ll continue this in the next question) we thought that people’s answer were going to be bigger than how it has been so far. Our first obstacle was to defeat 470 projects in Mexico to get the 1st place in a National Awards. Also as Nadia and I, we both are educational psychologist, our next obstacle was to find the person who could help us to build the first prototype. The next obstacle, but more than an obstacle was a challenge, was to get the chance to test our product and get feedback from children, parents and teachers. Now, our last obstacle is to succeed in our campaign at Kickstarter.
JT: Can you tell me about a personal experience with a child who has already played a “Smash-a-Ball?” What did they think of the game?
NG: The good thing is that we have so many experiences, with Mexican kids, with British kids and also with fully sighted children and parents. But we’re going to focus on one particular experience that makes us feel really good every time we remember it. In a school that we visited to test the toy and talk with teachers, was a particular boy, a little bit quiet and serious at the beginning, even in the first round playing with the “Smash-a-Ball.” Then with the second round he started to be more open and talked with us more, in the way he was making progress in the game, he was more and more open, even more happy, he said that at the beginning it was kind of weird and difficult, but then he started to get used to the toy and started to enjoy it more and more.
At the end he was so happy and he thanked us to make toys for the VI&B, because he doesn’t have too many toys, and the ones he have, he doesn’t like them too much. He also had a question, that we think was full of hope, he asked if we were doing other toys or that was the only thing in our minds, and we said, the “Smash-a-Ball” is only the first one because we have so many ideas and people willing to work with us and make a reality our projects, we explained to him the non-electronic toys, and we mentioned the apps for smartphones and tablets, and then he get even more excited, because he would love to play with the tablet, however, now is difficult to do that.
JT: Are standard toys not designed especially for the visually and developmentally impaired able to illicit the same cognitive developments that something like “Smash-a-Ball” could?
NG: Short answer, no, standard toys are not able to illicit the same cognitive developments. As we mentioned, out there are toys for babies or infants that can be used for older VI&B and DCC in a way to stimulate and enhance their cognitive development, and that is good, we mean, even if these toys can’t help in the same way the “Smash-a-Ball” can, ALWAYS is positive to provide cognitive stimulation to a child.
JT: Why is this cause and this product personally important to you?
NG: Many times, we had been asked about having a VI&B family member or friend, and no, we don’t have any friend or family related. However during our seven years working with children, we spent two years working with VI&B children, and that’s where our personal mission started, to create something to help and entertain them, because we didn’t need to have a family member or friend to be emphatic or to have the willingness to do something for them.
We only want to help in a way we can, and that’s why, not just this product is important for us, but all the projects, because as we mentioned, during our work and developing we’ve found some people who like what we do and want to be part of the project, and because of that is why we are developing non-electronic toys and apps for smartphones and tablets, and if everything goes as planned, we’ll launch our first app in May this year.
With over half of the campaign timeline remaining, Bori and Guevara remain hopeful, and despite the outcome, seem determined to make “Smash-a-Ball” a reality, one way or another.