Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a semifinalist.

Increment : Sensory Playthings for Inclusion

United StatesProvidence, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We create toys for inclusive play, to encourage independence and exploration among all children, regardless of ability, age, or gender. We collaborate with therapists, educators, parents, and kids, to ensure that our products are accessible and attractive to all. Our first toy is called the O-Rings.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if toy design focused on inclusion and promoted accessibility for kids of all abilities? What if there was a toy that all kids could play w
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Of the 2.8M kids in the US who have special needs (vision, hearing, cognitive, & motor impairments), 89% of them have a sibling, and 67% regularly attend school. They are spending most of their time with other kids and they should be able to play together. But there is a divide in the toy market: many toys today lack accessibility for kids with special needs, and toys on the special needs market are stigmatizing and often highlight disabilities.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

As supporters of inclusion, we work with educators, specialists, parents, and kids to ensure that our toys are truly designed for all children. We have designed the O-Rings to be accessible and engaging for every kid to play together, regardless of ability, age, or gender. Our first toy: The O-Rings are 4 stackable rings of incremental sizes. Each ring is a different texture, color, density, and filling, allowing for open-ended, sensory play. Varied sensory feedback allows for stimulation particularly for kids with vision and motor impairments, and it is also beneficial for basic childhood development for kids ages 0-12. Using universal design, we aim to create a line of sensory playthings to promote inclusion for kids of all abilities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Developing the O-Rings, we worked with a little girl named Megan who is blind and has motor impairments. Her teachers expressed that it was difficult to find toys that she could use with her friends, so we set out to make a great looking toy that could be used at home, at school, or in therapy, by any kid, regardless of ability. Interacting with the O-Rings, Megan develops her orientation and mobility skills, which are important for her to gain balance and learn to walk with a cane. The varying densities and textures, improve her texture sensitivity, which is important to learn braille. The ability to rearrange the rings, provides a seating solution with variable support, enabling her to independently sit with her friends and family.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

The O-Rings have been in use in the Middle School Sensory Gym at Meeting Street School in Providence for about 9 months. Between 20-25 children, with various, impairments use the gym regularly. The O-Rings are used for both open-ended play and guided therapy to build strength, tactile awareness, spatial awareness, color and shape recognition, and provide personal space barriers. We receive feedback from teachers, therapists, assistants, and kids through interviews and surveys. Many teachers simply don’t have the time to develop games or prompts. We are currently planning programs with other organizations to gather more data, and to collaboratively develop play, learning, and therapy prompts for specific age groups, types of therapy, and developmental needs. Our goal is not only to create toys, but also resources that will allow them to be used most effectively and creatively.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Within 1 year our goal is to have 500+ sets of O-Rings in use throughout the US. By building relationships with organizations, we will have a continuous dialogue on how our toys can be improved and used most effectively. Within 5 years, our goal is to have 5+ inclusive toys in production. With the groundwork set from our first product, our development process will become more streamlined, allowing us to decrease production time and cost, while maintaining quality and customer relationships. Ultimately, we aim to make inclusive play a more vital part of the $22 billion toy market.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As a for-profit social enterprise, our plan is to operate as a product company. Revenue will be dedicated to developing a line of high quality, innovative, accessible platform toys, allowing for interdependent products, and thus, new and returning customers. For strategic support, we are also building relationships with schools and organizations such as Meeting Street School, National Federation of the Blind, and the Providence Children's Museum.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are companies that focus only on children with special needs and there are toy companies such as Bobles and WePlay that focus on gross motor play, but only some toys are suitable for inclusive play and they are limited in terms of sensory feedback. We differentiate ourselves by focusing on inclusion for both kids with and without disabilities and combining gross motor and sensory play. In contrast to giants like Hasbro, we are mission-driven as opposed to profit-driven, and work directly with users to develop high-quality toys as well as our vision for our company.

Founding Story

Our collaborative degree project at RISD, was a research intensive journey to understand accessibility in play and education. We founded Increment to turn our degree project into something bigger, to continue our efforts and relationships with the kids, parents, teachers, and specialists we’ve met along the way. We wanted to bring our creations into the real world, and we wanted to be able to address the need for inclusion in the toy market directly.


We stand out among entrepreneurs, as women, social innovators, and designers. We are Maeve and Cynthia, the co-founders of Increment. We are recent graduates from the Rhode Island School of Design with backgrounds in industrial design, and we have been working together making accessible playthings for two years.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name


How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, RI, Providence

Country where this project is creating social impact
What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Friends and family, Individuals.


Core77 Design Awards - Strategy & Research Student Runner Up - 2013
Social Enterprise Bootcamp Pitch Contest Winner - 2013
Betaspring Maker Fellows - Fall 2013
The Awesome Foundation - Boston Chapter - Fellow - 2014
Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change Finalist - 2014
The Grommet Product Pitch - Ready for Crowdfunding Category Winner - 2014
TiE Challenge Finalist - 2014
Core77 Design Awards - Soft Goods Student Runner Up - 2014

Primary Target Age Group

0 - 1.5, 1.5 - 3, 3 - 5, 6 - 12.

Your role in Education


Please specify which of the following best applies:


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with (if applicable)

Public (tuition-free), Private (tuition-based), Home-School, Other.

Intervention Focus

Products or Services.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Putting Children in Charge: Giving children a voice and cultivating agency via experiential learning, project-based learning, and civic engagement.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Whole child development is undervalued: Essential parts of development get left behind as children get older, such as healthy habits, executive function, and social and emotional learning.


Experts in early childhood development, accessbility, benefit corporations, schools and programs outreach


Expertise in design, including design thinking, universal design, user-centric design and research, inclusive design, toy design

What key learning outcomes does your work seek to improve?

We seek to improve:
- the ability for teachers, parents, and specialists to critique current solutions for inclusive toys and tools for children that can benefit from improved design.
- the ability to analyze existing toys and identify features to be changed or added for better accessibility and inclusion for children with special needs.
- the implementation of the human-centered and universal design process in the realm of accessible, open-ended play and toy design.
- the presence of toys that promote accessibility and inclusive play in the toy market for kids of all abilities.

Secondary Form
PROGRAM DESIGN CLARITY: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Please succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Our model revolves around creative collaboration with beneficiaries, including children of all abilities, parents, educators, and specialists. As industrial designers with a focus on inclusion and core values in play, accessibility, and human-centered design, we work with our beneficiaries in conducting extensive user research, ideation, prototyping, and testing to create playthings that are responsive to users’ needs. We start off with conversations about daily living and activities that our beneficiaries take part in in playing, teaching, and working with children with and without disabilities. We ask them about their stories, their own inventions, and how we can evolve and improve on what is available. Our activities take place at schools, non-profits, children’s museums, homes, and community events, and our designing/prototyping take place in The Playroom of our live-work apartment, where we spend the majority of our time. In research/testing, we spend at least one day per week (8 hours) with beneficiaries on location to gain insight into their experiences. In addition to delivering the services/activities ourselves, we have beneficiaries who volunteer to assess our prototypes.

INSPIRATION: What do you consider the most important trends or evidence that inspire you to believe the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? Please elaborate.

The maker movement and the growing popularity of STEM to STEAM has been a major factor in companies like ours getting started. Many of these makers began as young children when the lines between play and learning are blurred. It is disturbing to see the number of schools cutting recess time, when this playtime and physical learning is vital to the creative and social development of the future generations. There is also a growing body of research on benefits on play, not only for kids, but adults as well. How can we create playful adults, without emphasizing play in learning for children?

LEARNING THROUGH PLAY: What does “learning through play” mean to you and why it is a must-have, instead of a nice to have?

Unstructured play is the perfect recipe for creativity and inclusion. By creating situations in which kids dictate how toys are used, we discover new ways of using our own products. Kids are able to approach products or scenarios without expectation, a skill that we lose as we become more familiar with how the world works. We have taken this concept of open ended play to heart, and strive to play through our work to creatively solving problems. We believe that in order to innovate and create successful products, we must maintain the awe, curiosity, and limitless creativity of children.

SUSTAINABILITY: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating the percentage that comes from each source.

Bootstrapping (funding from part-time employment and freelance work) 40%
Competitions/Grants (pitch competitions, awards, grants from RISD and Awesome Foundation) 40%
Pre-Orders 20%

MODEL: How does your mission relate to your business model (i.e. Non-profit, for-profit or hybrid)?

As a for-profit company, we produce quality toys that are accessible to all kids. Accessible products are often only found in specialty retailers. By offering our products through mainstream retailers, the toy market becomes more inclusive. Ultimately our goal is to deteriorate the stigma around toys and tools for individuals with special needs, and make inclusive play and learning a vital part of the toy market and, ultimately, of everyday life.

FUNDING PRIORITIES: If your organization were given $20K in unrestricted funding today, how would you use it? Why?

With $20K, we would refine our designs for cost-efficient production in the US and reduce the price point for ourselves and our beneficiaries. We would make our playthings more affordable and more accessible, not only for children of all abilities, but of different economic backgrounds as well.

PARTNERSHIPS: Tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Most of our research as well as testing with teachers, therapists, and children took place at Meeting Street, an inclusive school. Future partnerships include creating a “curriculum of play” with the non-profit Kids Included Together, product efficacy research and business assessment with TREAT, an NIH Center that focuses on rehabilitation, and People Inc, a local non-profit that serves children with disabilities.

COLLABORATIONS: Have you considered or initiated partnerships with any of the other Challenge Pacesetters? If so, please share.

One initiative that caught our eye is Shane’s Inspiration and their play-based education program to promote inclusion. We see potential for our playthings to be used as tools for play as well as learning, and we see the potential for our toys to develop into collaborative, accessible playgrounds.

VISION: If you had unlimited funding, and you could fast forward 15 years to when your program has been able to achieve wild success - what will it have achieved?

In 15 years, we see Increment to grow as not merely a toy company, but a leading play company. We will have several playthings in production, with each one furthering inclusion in a creative and collaborative way. We will have partnered with nonprofits that focus on inclusion, disability rights, underserved children, and play therapy. We will continue to encourage others to think about play and learning in an inclusive way in all areas of life.

IMPACT - KEY METRICS: Please list the key data points that you would cite as evidence that you are able to achieve lasting learning outcomes. Please also share one data point for which you most hope to see better results over time

We conducted user research over 8 months and play testing with beneficiaries over 9 months to assess the range of use for our sensory playthings. We have received positive feedback from users, and for our next round of research over 9 months, we will work with TREAT ( to measure specific benefits we can deliver: instances of inclusion, creative play, social interaction, milestones in childhood development.

IMPACT - REPORTING SAMPLE: Please attach any examples of your impact reporting. [optional]:
RESEARCH AND EVIDENCE: Please link or attach any research or evidence resource you are open to sharing more widely [optional]. Building research and evidence is a key aim of this initiative, and the resources you share may be chosen for listing in the Center for Education Innovations library:
SOURCE: If applicable - who created the research or evidence you are choosing to share? :
IMPACT - REACH: How many people did your project directly engage in programmatic activities in the last year?

0 to 500

STUDY: Has an external evaluation or study been conducted of your organization?

Other (please specify)

Other (please specify)

We are have built relationships with nonprofits, schools, and a federal grant program to conduct studies in the near future.

Number of Employees:

Fewer than 10

Number of Volunteers:

Fewer than 10

APPROACHES: Given the complexity of play, it is not surprising that there have been numerous research attempts to categorize the different types and approaches! Please indicate which of the following your project focuses on.

Physical Play, Play with Objects, Creating a Supportive Socio-Emotional Environment, Providing a Range of Opportunities (providing the equipment and materials needed for various types of play), Adults Participating (Ensuring adults are able to play alongside children), Challenging Play (play that disrupts - where rules are disregarded and levels of imagination are high), Other (please specify).

Other (please specify)

Inclusive Play (play that includes all children, regardless of ability, age, or gender)

AFFILIATION: Please specify if your organization has any existing affiliations with the LEGO Group.