When Maeve Jopson and Cynthia Poon saw Megan Lamontagne’s reaction to a toy they made as part of their final project in industrial design last year at the Rhode Island School of Design, they knew they were onto something.
Megan, now 13, of Cumberland, is blind and has motor-skill deficiencies that make balancing difficult, a condition caused by shaking baby syndrome, said her adoptive mother, Vickie Lamontagne. She has trouble sitting up, though she is full of vigor and, as Jopson noted, “sassy.”
Megan attends Meeting Street in Providence. The nonprofit provides individualized attention and therapeutic and educational services not only to disabled youth and young adults with various challenges, but also to those without disabilities. The philosophy of inclusion is a priority there, said Robert Fricklas, special-education director.
The toys, or “o-rings,” are a set of stackable rings filled with soft material of differing densities that children, disabled or not, can sit in or use to throw balls through and play with in other ways, Jopson and Poon said. Having created the o-rings with Megan in mind, Jopson and Poon were thrilled to see the way Megan took to the inverted cone of rings they presented to her at Meeting Street in May 2013.
“She sat inside them and was rocking back and forth,” Jopson recalled. “Generally, they couldn’t let her sit on her own. She pulled her shoulders back and was engaging with her whole body and even her therapist had never seen her do that. It was incredible to see.”
Fricklas said the simple design of the o-rings is a key feature.
“It’s universally designed,” he said. “It’s well-designed and it’s durable, attractive. It gets students with special needs and without special needs to want to manipulate it, play with it, and we’re able to build skills on several levels: fine and gross motor skills; attention to tasks; [and] social interactive skills.”