Bathroom Pals

User Story– Meet Gerardo

Betsy, a preschool education teacher, has reached out to VCU OT regarding her student, Gerardo. Gerardo is a 5-year-old boy who is hyperlexic and hypersensitive to noises, especially self-flushing toilets. He often wears headphones to dampen the noise when in loud places. Their school has recently installed self-flushing toilets, which resulted in Gerardo avoiding using the toilet for 2 weeks. Months later, Gerardo is at a point where he can flush the toilet on his own when tape is covering the flushing sensor, though he still vocally protests at the noise. Gerardo is going to kindergarten this year, and will need to be able to go to any restroom in the school independently, so Betsy would like to find a solution to this problem. She has tried desensitization to the noise and having him wear noise cancelling headphones, but neither of these methods were effective. It is unreasonable to tape the sensor on every toilet in the school, so they need a solution that he can take around with him.

Problem Statements

Gerardo is a 5-year-old elementary school student who has hypersensitivity to the noise from automatic flushing toilets. He would like to use the toilet independently because he is going to kindergarten in the fall. How might we help Gerardo tolerate the noise of an automatic flushing toilet?

Betsy is a preschool education teacher who is having difficulty coming up with an idea to help a student with auditory hypersensitivities use an automatic flushing toilet. How might we create a solution that the teacher can use to help the student use the toilet?

Design Process

Initial design


Initial Prototypes

Revisions and Design Updates

Suggestions were made to extend the back length of the prototype to extend over the back of the toilet sensor. Materials such as hard plastic and cloth were suggested, but the cloth idea brought up concerns of hygiene and was discarded. Instructor advised that extra weight would be needed on the back of the prototype along with a grip material (e.g. silicone, Dycem tape, magnet) in the middle to help hold it in place. Instructor suggested adding another piece on the back, but group members recommended putting a key chain on the end that would add weight and make it easy to carry. Instructor approved of the idea and group members assembled materials to make an updated prototype.

We 3D printed our second prototype. We initially tried to make the top pieces curved, but the design of the curve was not compatible for the 3D printer. On the third print, we resorted to making the top piece flat. We decided to test it on the toilet to see if it would work or if it would need to be curved. If the curve was needed, we would try another method that was suggested to us. After it finished printing, we experimented with different size jump rings to attach the pieces together to see where the best places to attach them were. We decided that we were going to attach the rings to each ear and two on the back. On the next 3D print, we will remove some of the holes that we made. We also experimented with the placement of the magnet strip and the silicone bumper to prevent slipping and to find the best location so the weight is distributed evenly.

We took the prototype to the elementary school to test it on the automatic toilets to make sure the size of the product fit properly and to test if it worked as intended. We concluded that the size of the product worked well. The top of the toilet sensor is slightly curved so we added silicone grippers to the under side of the prototype to ensure that it does not slip off in any direction. The addition of the silicone grippers also helped to better fit the prototype to the curved top. We decided against using the magnet strips because they didn’t provide any added benefit to what we already had.

As for the use of the prototype, it seemed to work well. We tested it in multiple stalls to try out multiple sensors, and we had success with several of them. We also tried it in the wheelchair accessible bathroom in which the sensor is flipped upside down from the rest of them, and it also worked there. We tested it a few ways. First, one person walked into the bathroom stall, closed the door, put the cover over the sensor, squatted down and waited a few seconds, stood up, pushed the button, and then removed the sensor. We found that with this sequence, it increased the risk of the toilet flushing a second time. With the second try, one person walked in, closed the door, simulated all the bathroom things, and then grabbed the prototype and walked out, skipping the pushing of the button. This worked better. The toilet flushed when walking out of the bathroom stall, thus flushing only once. Additionally, with removing the step of pushing the button it took out the potential problem of mixing up the sequencing of pulling up pants and underwear followed by pushing the button and immediately removing the cover so it doesn’t flush twice. Following those exact steps can be complicated and interchanged easily, so by skipping the step to push the button, it eliminates these problems. To ensure Gerardo knows and understands its intended use, we created a visual for him to use. This visual will be provided below.

After testing out the prototype, editing and finalizing its overall size and use, we started editing the details. We decided that in the final print we will add stripes to all pieces and face to the front of the prototype. We also wanted to see if we could adjust the back piece so that the product will fold up nicely together. We changed the overall shape of the back piece to fit like a puzzle with the front piece when folded together. This allowed it to be flat and uniform.

After making these changes, we shared how it went at the school and our updates with our instructor. She gave us feedback on the button cutout. She said that if we don’t intend to have him push the button why don’t we extend the front of the cover to cover the button hole. We decided, and Betsy agreed, that the button hole provides a good visual cue for proper placement of the cover over the sensor. It also maintains the visual of the tiger, as the opening for the button hole serves as the mouth, and when the toilet flushes, that is the auditory cue for the tiger’s roar.

We plan to 3D print the final design, and then based on the final design, print another to be given back to Betsy for her to continue using in her classroom with any child that needs to use it after Gerardo moves on to Kindergarten.

In further 3D printing, we tried to add the stripes to the tiger, but the 3D printer didn’t print the stripes black. So we printed the final product all in orange and then drew on the stripes and face with sharpie to complete the design. We are adding the rings to finish it up! Additionally, we have designed a panda bear cover which we will also 3D print for Betsy to keep.

Final Design

For our final design, we created a compact cover to go over the toilet sensor that will prevent the toilet from flushing automatically while Gerardo is using the restroom. Instead, the toilet will only flush after removing the cover from the sensor or pushing the flush button, providing Gerardo the power to flush the toilet when he is ready and expecting it. The design consists of three pieces constructed by a 3D printer that are connected by four hook rings, two rings on each side. The top piece of the design that sits on the top of the sensor piece has two silicone pads on the bottom to ensure that the design does not slip off. Additionally, the top of the sensor piece is slightly curved, so the silicone pads increase the fit of the design on it. When not in use, the front and back side pieces can fold up on top of the top piece so that all pieces are held against each other, providing a more compact method for transportation. Each side has cosmetic designs on it, representing different animals—“Timmy” the Toilet Tiger and “Penny” the Potty Panda. Timmy the Toilet Tiger was chosen for the design so that Gerardo could associate the roar of a tiger with the flushing sound of a toilet, with the aim of helping Gerardo become more comfortable with the flushing sound. The Penny the Potty Panda design was created following the completing of Timmy the Toilet Tiger. Penny’s design uses the same design as Timmy, with the differences in cosmetic designs such as panda eyes and a panda tail. As a result, Gerardo will have two different options for sensor covers he can use when going to the restroom.

Material Considerations

Our team decided to use 3D print material with silicone tabs for our final design. Other materials we considered included thermoplastic and cloth, as well as using suction cups, silicone tabs, and magnets to attach the design to the toilet. The 3D print material ends up being a hard plastic and we attached two silicone tabs to the bottom of the middle rectangle. We decided to use these materials because it is hard like thermoplastic, but it allows us to easily add holes and create separate pieces that exactly match the toilet specifications. We decided against the cloth because we thought it would not stay clean being brought in the bathroom. We decided on the silicone tabs because they added a non-slick component without being difficult to remove like the suction cups. We tried using magnets, but they did not stick to the toilet.

Our group recognizes that not everyone will have access to a 3D printer. As an alternative, we recommend shaping the designs using the specifications above out of a hard plastic. The 3D printer filaments end up shaping into a hard plastic, so the design can be replicated manually if needed.


  • 3D printed filaments: $.48 for the tiger and $.50 for the panda
  • Silicone bumpers: $3.99 (pack of 6, we used 2 bumpers in our final design)
  • Pack of jump rings: $2.79 (pack of 105, we used 4 rings in our final design)
  • Sharpie: $2.49
  • Mod Podge: $5.99

TOTAL: $16.24

Product critique


  • Works on sensor that it was created for and for a similar sensor that was made upside down
  • Visual schedule included for user ease
  • Even if placed backwards, product will still do what it is intended to do
  • Compact
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to make and use
  • Hygienic- can be wiped down
  • Durable
  • Aesthetically pleasing


  • Made from material that is not easily accessible to everyone. Should be made out of more common items.
  • Rings are delicate and could be taken off. Future products should use a stronger material to hold pieces together.
  • If not lined up over sensor, it will not work. Could be made wider to make it easier to place and to ensure coverage of sensor.
  • Could fall off if placed on edge. By making it wider, it could make it more stable and less likely to fall off.
  • Marker colors may fade over time. Paint or 3D print material in a different color may last for a longer period of time against repeated wiping.
  • Could be a possible choking hazard if rings or silicone pieces come off. Choking hazard could be reduced by making all pieces connect or making sure product is handled with care or supervision.


User Instructions-3

Student designers: Katie Felarca, Gabby Hobson, Kaitlyn Hurley, Natalie Slemp

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