Zoë Tessier, a special projects coordinator at CanAssist, inspects a production Toilet Step Stool in the lab. (Photo courtesy Paul Green)

Zoë Tessier, a special projects coordinator at CanAssist, inspects a production Toilet Step Stool in the lab. (Photo courtesy Paul Green)

CanAssist engineers partner with province to give kids a step up while potty training

UVic-based team ships 1,000 free stools to B.C. daycares with $1M from children’s ministry

A Saanich-made invention that will help children use the washroom independently will soon appear in daycares across B.C. – including 200 on Vancouver Island.

Since 2019, CanAssist at the University of Victoria, a team that develops assistive technologies, has been working with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and more than 300 childcare providers, parents and occupational therapists to develop the Toilet Step Stool – a non-slip, stable platform with handles that fits snugly around the toilet to help kids use the bathroom on their own.

CanAssist’s Toilet Step Stool bases were stacked in piles during the assembly process. (Photo courtesy Paul Green)

Through the Canada-B.C. Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, the ministry provided $1 million for CanAssist to tackle some of the challenges children face while learning to use the toilet independently, said Katrina Chen, minister of state for child care.

READ ALSO: Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

Chen noted the province has undertaken a 10-year plan, Childcare BC, to deliver affordable, inclusive childcare for kids of all abilities. The need for children to be potty trained before attending daycare was determined to be a barrier – specifically for families with children who have different support needs.

Using surveys, daycare visits and consultations, CanAssist identified a broad need for “a very stable toilet step stool system” for children of all abilities, said Paul Green, engineering manager at CanAssist. Market research showed that existing toilet stools for kids weren’t large enough or stable enough and CanAssist decided to fix that.

Zoë Tessier, special projects coordinator at CanAssist, inspects a production Toilet Step Stool in the lab. (Photo courtesy Paul Green)

READ ALSO: High-tech lab CanAssist knows no bounds

The goal is not to compete but to “address gaps that exist,” said Robin Syme, the team’s executive director. CanAssist’s stool has many features that are important for children including a large base with room to turn and a toilet paper holder to bring the roll closer for small kids.

These child-centric features were important to Gail Atkins, head teacher at Saanich’s Strawberry Vale Preschool which took part in prototype-testing, as it’s rare for daycares to be purpose-built for kids.

Because of the high demand for daycare, many are established in adult-sized spaces “where the kids don’t feel comfortable” using the toilet alone, said Atkins, who’s been working in childcare for 35 years.

READ ALSO: New CanAssist technology eases anxieties for dementia caregivers

“The step stool is fantastic” because the kids can hang on and feel safe and independent, she said, adding she’d like to see all childcare facilities be equipped with the stools.

Green’s five-year-old daughter Alice also helped with the testing and “was always willing to give (him) feedback” on prototypes.

The initial prototype went out to five daycares in Greater Victoria and their feedback helped the team refine the design and manufacture the next prototype – of which 50 were distributed across B.C. for another trial. Then, the final prototype was developed and, on March 26, CanAssist completed the 1,000th unit. All were shipped to daycares across B.C. free of charge.


@devonscarlett
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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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