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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Sign of the times as hands-on teen creates smart toy

Teddy helps deaf children learn words

Published 14/02/2012 | 05:00

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Katie McCarthy and her sister Aoibheann with the prototype teddy Deaffie Eddie Freddie
Katie is hoping her teddy bear 'Deaffie Eddie Freddie' will do for sign language what the learning bear Babog did for the Irish tongue

A TEENAGER believes she has the bear necessities for helping youngsters learn sign language.

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Katie McCarthy (17) is hoping her teddy bear 'Deaffie Eddie Freddie' (inset) will do for sign language what the learning bear Babog did for the Irish tongue.

Just as the Irish-speaking teddy teaches children "a haon, do, tri", Katie's teddy will teach deaf children to sign basic words.

Unlike the usual teddy, Katie's model has moveable fingers connected to a sensor inside the toy.

Pictures on the teddy's body showing everyday items such as a house, car, dog and cat will also be connected to the sensor so that when a child presses one of these pictures, the sensor activates the teddy's hands to sign the word.

Katie has already been in touch with a number of manufacturing companies in the UK and the US and has received expressions of interest in her prototype.

One company contacted her on Friday to say it would be interested in developing her design further.

They've also discussed the possibility of putting a screen on the teddy's belly that will further illustrate the sign.

Katie now has her fingers crossed that this will lead to her prototype being developed and going into production.

The transition year student at Presentation Secondary School in Tralee has also got the backing of the Kerry Deaf Resource Centre, which has promoted her idea to parents to a positive response.

The enterprising teenager has carried out extensive research with parents at the centre, and has consulted speech therapists and other professionals working with deaf children.

"The teddy encourages children to use their other senses so I've used different materials to develop their sense of touch so it's not all just fur," Katie explained.

She got the inspiration for her business idea while out shopping for a new toy with her sister Aoibheann (2).

"We were in a toy shop and I met a woman who had a daughter the same age who was deaf. She told me how difficult it was to get toys specifically designed for deaf children or even suitable for them," Katie explained.

"I was almost reduced to tears. I thought it was so sad because my little sister has so much choice."

Katie is one of 600 second and third-level students taking part in the Co Kerry-based Young Entrepreneur Programme.

However, the young transition-year student is unsure whether she'll pursue a career in business.

"I'd really love to work with kids, that's my passion, and I'm going to do my work experience in an autism unit in Tralee," she said.

Irish Independent

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