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May 16, 2024

Carolina Adapts Toys for Children is a club at UNC and NC State that is adapting toys to be switch accessible. Maddy and Nayala join the podcast to share more about CATCH.

Brennan Barber  0:31  

Welcome to the Theralinq podcast where we dive into the inspiring stories of individuals dedicated to reshaping the disability ecosystem. Join us as we explore the triumphs, challenges, and innovative solutions crafted by changemakers, striving to create a more inclusive world, from passionate advocates and trailblazing entrepreneurs, to the resilient individuals breaking down barriers. Each episode shines a light on the progress being made, and the work still to be done to create a more equitable society that enables every individual the chance to reach their full potential, get ready to be inspired, informed and uplifted as we hear from those who are reshaping the narrative around disability.

Bethany Darragh  1:20 

All right, today on our podcast, we have Maddy and Nayala from UNC. If you guys could just start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

Maddy Vinal  1:29  

Yeah, so I'm Maddy. I'm a junior at UNC majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in physics and data science. Oh, and I'm from the DC area.

Nalaya Giraud  1:38 

I am Nalaya. I am also a junior in DME. I am minoring in computer programming at NC State and my concentrations are medical market devices and biosignals imaging.

Bethany Darragh  1:49

That's great. So the reason why we have these students on today is because they are both involved in a club called CATCH. So if you guys could just start by telling us a little bit about what catch is and the origin story for catch. Yeah,

Maddy Vinal  2:03

So CATCH stands for Carolina adopts toys for children. It was founded in November 2018. And basically the purpose of this club is we open up toys and rewire them so that kids with disabilities and accessibility needs can use them too. Our founder Michael Weaver, grew up with cerebral palsy and wanted to give back to others in his community. And as a kid with accessibility needs, he struggled to play with the toys designed that had super small buttons and switches. So as a biomedical engineer at UNC, he was able to kind of start this club to kind of help his own cause.

Brennan Barber  2:42

So can you tell us a little bit about CATCH’s model? Do families with children with disabilities come to you? Do you go directly to clinical settings? What does that look like?

Maddy Vinal  2:53  

Yeah, so normally, we donate mostly to hospitals and nonprofits in the North Carolina area, but then also some places nationally, but then sometimes we do get requests specifically from families and those are usually more specialized toys. So last semester, we made a rocking horse specifically for one child when her mom reached out so it is more kind of geared towards donating a large number of choice to hospitals and nonprofits but then we also get to work on these special projects through specific kids.

Bethany Darragh  3:23

Yeah, I can speak to that because I have some students coming to one of my schools that I serve, and they're working on a special project for us. So traditionally, the switches sit kind of up so that they're really easy to access and you can just kind of hit it with a full hand. But we're trying to get some of our kids to use more of an index finger point. And so we're asking them to build us one that has walls on the side that's a little bit less accessible on purpose, so that they have to isolate that finger. So I'm excited to see what you guys come up with for that. 

Brennan Barber  3:56  

Do you take inspiration from other types of products that are on the market? What's the genesis of what you're building?

Nalaya Giraud  4:04 

So usually what we do is we kind of find sort of easy to modify toys so that people in our club members in our club are able to successfully modify them. But we also like to choose a range of toys that are going to be appealing to children. So they're not boring, but they're exciting. And yeah, that's basically how we go on about doing adaptations.

Brennan Barber 4:30   

And when you're doing that research do you have I guess? You mentioned your your founder has CP. Do you have others that have disabilities that are helping you test these switches? What does that look like?

Maddy Vinal  4:42 

Part of our process is we design and 3d print our own buttons. And this is kind of the biggest part with accessibility is making sure that these buttons are usable. So basically every time that we go visit a donation center, we get feedback on Hey, how was this last batch of buttons, how did that go and basically they give us their feedback. So our most recent feedback was our old button design. It was kind of like you had to press it from above. So they wanted us to create a button that can be pressed a little bit more from the side and could be pressed like kind of on any side of the button to make it more accessible.

Bethany Darragh  5:16  

Yes, we just got a couple of those and we're really excited to try them out. So I know that catch is at UNC and then you guys have just expanded to NC State. What are the plans kind of going forward for catch?  Where do y'all see it going?

Nalaya Giraud  5:32  

So we plan on kind of, you know, we're trying to find more toys adapt, and basically trying to reach more populations with no specific needs. And we have a couple of years of like where we kind of want to go we were thinking of doing maybe more female oriented toys because a lot of the toys that we use are kind of male oriented. And although that might sound a bit stereotypical, I think it's good to kind of cater to both audiences, whether you like female oriented toys versus male oriented toys. Also. Yeah, ESL toys, toys that are oriented for different languages so that we can reach an international community because that's pretty big here in Chapel Hill.

Maddy Vinal  6:20  

Yeah, and then I guess the other are other plans for the future of cash. You talked a little bit about our NC State kind of outreach going on there. So we are trying to start a new chapter at NC State and we're hoping that we can get that up and running next semester. And so we think that by kind of expanding to more college campuses, we can actually increase our output of toys. I think our biggest issue right now is we have a limited number of members. We kind of have to do all of our work in one room, so we can't have a ton of people there. So by kind of expanding to other college campuses, we'll be able to kind of be able to donate more toys to more places.

Brennan Barber  6:54  

Talking about expanding your geographic reach other other organizations that are similar to yours that you're aware of.

Nalaya Giraud  6:59  

So I'm not like 100% Sure, but I know that there is a couple I think actually, when one time at our club, there were a couple of graduate students from I think, a university in Texas that had done similar modifications to toys and they had provided us some kind of their designs for buttons like a joystick button. That was pretty cool. And so I don't know how much we've explored that really, but I that's kind of my knowledge as to like clubs that do something similar to what we do.

Brennan Barber  7:34 

What were your personal motivations to get involved? Do you have experience working with individuals with disabilities, or did you have experience previously?

Maddy Vinal   7:43 

So I actually had a little bit of experience in high school. I was part of an organization that was kind of geared towards getting kids with disabilities more active. And so as part of that I talk to kids with disabilities how to swim, as well as just playing general like water games with them. And we had this one field day, once a year, where all the kids got to come and play a bunch of different games. And so it was kind of a buddy system where I would work with one kid the entire time hanging out with them talk to them about whatever played with them. And it was a really amazing experience. So I kind of knew that I wanted to do something in college that was kind of similar to what I'd done in high school, but and so I heard about CATCH it was kind of perfect because it is a more engineering based club. So I got to apply skills that I'm very interested in to kind of a cause that I already was passionate about.

Nalaya Giraud  8:35 

So I have not worked. I had not worked with people with disabilities previously coming to catch. I sort of went into catch going because I wanted to improve my engineering skills. And I thought this was a good way to get hands on experience and also feedback. But I also ended up really enjoying the work that we do and kind of like how much impact attack so it ended up kind of changing my motivations.

Bethany Darragh  9:06

How do you feel this experience will stick with you as you look forward into your future career?

Nalaya Giraud  9:14  

So as part of my role on CATCH, I am the Chief Quality Officer. So a lot of the things that I do surrounding like making sure our members are safe waiting, soldering and also ensuring the quality of the toys and a part of biomedical engineering is quality assurance and validation testing. And I think a lot of the skills that I've learned here are very applicable to those types to that field. And so also not only that, but problem solving, trying to find out what's wrong with the toy. And then also collaboration because a lot of the time when working on a toy, you don't work on it alone. You work on it with people and it's more encouraged to do that so that you're gaining feedback as you go. And that way you can also build community as well a lot of the time, especially people who come into our club that might want to get into BME like freshmen who want to get into BME later on, they can meet other freshmen interested in the same thing. And kind of like build community that way.

Maddy Vinal  10:17  

And so my role I'm marketing leads, so essentially, I can get the word out about catch on campus, organize fundraisers, do collaborations with other clubs on campus, and run the Instagram. And so, one thing that I have learned about running Instagram, was I went through some accessibility training. And I think kind of learning about those guidelines is something that I'm gonna take on, carry on, through whatever job I get next, just with like kind of knowing, hey, this is how the big the text size needs to be. You need to make sure that this was there's this much color contrast all of that. So that's been really helpful. I think another thing that I learned was kind of how to advocate for this organization. In the fall semester, I organized a women and non binary individuals in STEM research, industry and grad school panel. And so I managed to I reached out to the BMA department and managed to get them to fully fund it, provide food, provide a professional photographer and all that. So I think that's another skill that I'm going to kind of carry on after I graduate is just kind of how to advocate for something that I'm very passionate about.

Bethany Darragh  11:22  

That's great. Share more about how the listeners could get involved if they want to contribute or if we have some students who might want to get involved or start a chapter at their school.

Maddy Vinal  11:34  

Yeah there's kind of a few ways. We are working towards the GoFundMe, so you know if you want to donate feel free.  It's always appreciated. The other thing is we're actually going to get a website up and running pretty soon. We've been in the works for a couple of years now. And it's almost done. I was just out of meeting for that and it looked amazing. So I'm super excited about that. And so right now, I think once that's up, it'd be really nice if people could go in and see kind of what tools we have available. And if you have any suggestions like, Hey, you're kind of missing this target age group, or like, hey, like most of us, I mean, she was talking about earlier about how a lot of us tours are kind of male oriented and there's not enough female oriented toys that we've been working on. So kind of being able to get feedback from that. And then also, you know, just kind of looking through telling us, Hey, we like your model here, the things that we don't like so I think we're very like open to getting feedback from your listeners and everyone. So getting that to kind of get some new ideas and get better ideas would be amazing. Yeah, yeah,

Nalaya Giraud  12:38  

it's super important in engineering to get feedback because it's not always going to be perfect. And we want to make sure that we're putting out the best quality that we can.

Brennan Barber  12:47  

Absolutely. Question I guess for you all individually as far as next steps go. As you look ahead to your career paths, you know, BME has brought applications for and you probably have a few different avenues in which you could pursue. Are you looking to go more in the traditional medical device space or are you looking to stay more in line with like, adaptive technologies, toys, etc?

Maddy Vinal  13:14  

Yeah, I think it varies person to person. I know that I'm personally my specialty is for pharmaco engineering and medical micro devices. But I'm also looking at maybe going to get my PhD in computational biology. So I don't know if I'm necessarily will be going more towards the, like adaptive devices, but I know that our tech, technical officer Jacob is looking to kind of get into prosthetics and stuff like that, so that he's very interested in that. Do you have anything to add? 

Nalaya Giraud  13:44  

As I mentioned I have a I'm trying to get a minor in computer science. And so I kind of want to pay there at the kind of intersection between medicine and technology, and is adaptive technology. Part of that? Yes, I do think that is very possible. But I don't really have a specific area I want to be and I just want to be in that general field. I'm very interested in that.

Brennan Barber  14:06  

Given your experience now working in this space and what it's like working with a small team, like do you find that there'll be interested in working for a startup in this space versus like a large enterprise big corporate type of company? You know, is there motivation on your end to kind of explore some, you know, new horizons in development or is it more like, you know, I know if I'm in with one of these big med device companies, you know, I can have a bigger impact quicker or even if it's, you know, maybe not as agile. 

Maddy Vinal  14:40

I really like how flexible and adaptable it is, like what your role can be. With what we're doing right now. I get to kind of cross like work with a lot of people and exact kind of do different things. So like, I work with the treasurer when we do fundraisers, but then I also work with our outreach chair when I want to do stuff like this. And I mean, there's just so many different things you can get involved in, which I kind of liked and that kind of just made me want to kind of go more towards the startup, just because I feel like, honestly, kind of could make more of an impact if you were in a startup because you could kind of make more decisions about what the culture of that startups going to be like. And kind of like what direction that company is gonna end up going. But, you know, we'll see kind of where the wind takes me.

Brennan Barber  15:32  

Yeah, you are right.  Being a part of a start up you can wear more hats, you can be more agile, you can work quicker, probably have quicker impact with less red tape. On the flip side, if you're with you know, a big med device company, you'll have more resources behind you is really the the one value add there. 

Nalaya Giraud  15:50 

I feel like with smaller companies as well, or at least with cash because we have a small exec, we can kind of put more personal touches to the thoughts that we're putting out. So it kind of I quite like that aspect. I think like, it makes a difference. The impact you have on an individual person or like just people in general, or small group of people. I think that's super exciting. And yeah.

Brennan Barber  16:13 

So the toys that you receive are primarily donated. And the sort of funding for the organization. So you mentioned the GoFundMe, are there other fundraising activities that you all do? Yeah,

Maddy Vinal   16:24 

So we get a lot of our funding through the student government here at UNC. But then we also hold fundraisers, because usually we don't get as much as we necessarily want or need. And so I'm actually in charge with our treasurer and I'm in charge of organizing those. So this semester, we did a Chipotle benefit night, where I believe it was like 20-30% of people who like said they were there for CATCH, like all that money went to us. We made a good amount of money off of that. Last semester, we did a bake sale, which was really fun, because we all like got to like bake all together. Exactly. And so that was pretty successful as well. To be have anything else. I don't think we did. I don't think we did. I think it was just those two. But though so we try to do like one to two fundraisers per semester, which kind of make up for that extra. But usually we do get most of our funding through UNC, which has been very helpful.

Brennan Barber  17:21  

Do you all have certain metrics around like number of toys that you're developing during a given period of time, like during a semester or over the course of a year? And then what is your I guess, what are your distribution channels then to get those in the hands of certain organizations? 

Maddy Vinal  17:42 

So our outreach chair does most of that. We try to set a benchmark we usually set it that benchmark person not sir on 40 toys, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it's usually 40 toys that are perfect. We have a lot more toys that are kind of in progress and definitely and so we kind of had to get 40 perfect toys out there. And he got to decide like we usually donate to five or six different sites, so they get like a like 6-12 toys to each donation site. And so that's kind of how like our main like, donate to organizations works and then as far as like the more personal family, a given family reaches out we usually do one toy they're like, we want our kid to have this specific toy. And so then we just work on that one specific toy for them. And that usually happens within a semester.

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