Watch How Legos Can Transform the Lives of Kids With Disabilities

A new invention uses the toy blocks to boost self-esteem in children who wear prosthetic limbs.
Jul 12, 2015·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Lots of kids are attached to their toys, but a new invention is allowing young amputees to use Legos as parts of their body—and it could be helping to change their minds about disabilities.

IKO prosthetic system was designed to replace the traditional gripping attachment on most prosthetic arms with one that uses products kids are more familiar with: plastic Lego bricks that can be combined to create modular, hand-like tools.

Designed by Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar, a master’s candidate in product design at Umea University in Sweden, the Transformers-like gadget isn’t just a way to maximize playtime for kids with prosthetic limbs. More broadly, the project aims to boost self-esteem and engagement among children who otherwise suffer emotional setbacks due to their physical disability.

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To find out how the disability affects self-esteem, Tovar partnered with Lego Future Lab and the Colombian nonprofit advocacy organization Cirec, which paired him with psychologists, technicians, surgeons, and two families with children suffering from congenital hand disabilities. Tovar found that prosthetics can lead to depression, anxiety, and learning problems in kids who are perceived as different from their peers.

So, Why Should You Care? People in need of prostheses and related services are greatly underserved in developing countries. An estimated 30 million people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America require about 180,000 rehabilitation professionals. In 2005, however, just 400 trainees graduated from two dozen schools in developing countries, according to a 2011 report by the World Health Organization.

To create the IKO prosthetic system, Tovar worked with families and professionals in his home country of Colombia, where an ongoing civil war has left many people injured. Of the 186 civilians who were hit by landmines in 2012, more than a quarter were children, according to UNICEF. Tovar’s IKO prosthetic system likely won’t be mass-produced for consumers anytime soon—the prototype was created as part of a Umea University project—but the technology could influence how designers approach prosthetics, particularly for kids.