Skip to main content
Jakob smiling.

Making Science Accessible for Kids

Holland Bloorview’s HB FIRST® Robotics program opens up the world of STEM to kids with disabilities.

Jakob has always been fascinated by science and robotics. Even as a small child he enjoyed playing with science kits and doing little experiments, but living with autism has made it difficult for Jakob, who’s now nine, to participate in science clubs and classes with other kids.

“I wanted him to be able to have something to do with other kids, and with teachers or guides who would be sensitive to him and his needs,” says Jakob’s mother, Kelly. “I thought Holland Bloorview would be the perfect place, because they know how to care for children with disabilities and sensitivities.”

It turns out Kelly was right. So far Jakob has participated in three elements of Holland Bloorview’s HB FIRST® Robotics program: Science Club, Junior Robotics and Coding, and has enjoyed them all. “He loves all the computer stuff, designing his own videogames and music things,” Kelly says. “And he loves the robotics. He gets to see what he has done on the computer come to life, and that’s exciting for him. In the Science Club they did a new experiment each session, using things like bouncy balls and slime and catapults, and he just loved that as well, because it was something he was physically able to do and play with, and even bring some of it home.”

HB FIRST® Robotics came about as a way to address the barriers faced by children and youth with disabilities and developmental differences that prevent them from participating in STEM fields like science and math. Supported by a generous gift from the CIBC Foundation, it’s a partnership that has seen Holland Bloorview clinicians and biomedical engineers adapt FIRST Robotics Canada’s robotics program to make it accessible for kids with disabilities.

 As well as being fun, the program has been shown to boost kids’ creativity, self-confidence, teamwork and problem-solving skills, setting the stage for their future success. And it’s helped Jakob connect with other kids and make friends. “I think socialization is actually a big part of it,” says Kelly. “Jakob wants to socialize, but in a setting where he’s comfortable and can learn how to be with other kids and make friends. He likes the kids he gets to work with, and he looks forward to doing the programs.”

CIBC has been a loyal supporter of Holland Bloorview for more than 30 years, both through its annual Miracle Day fundraiser, which helps fund HB FIRST® Robotics, and by sponsoring initiatives that raise awareness of disability issues and advance knowledge and care at the hospital. “At CIBC, we believe that everyone should have access to opportunities to help achieve their ambitions, which is why removing barriers that get in the way of progress is so important,” says Ronan Ryan, Executive Director of the CIBC Foundation. “We’re proud of our longstanding partnership with Holland Bloorview and are excited to support the HB FIRST® Robotics program, which will increase access to STEM education for many more kids with disabilities and open up new opportunities for advanced education and employment.”

Kelly appreciates what the HB FIRST® Robotics program has done for her son. “I’ve seen the excitement from him,” she says. “He’s motivated, he’s excited, he’s always talking about it. If he could, he would do these programs every day.”