Students and staff at Wichita State University have launched a program that pairs children with disabilities with toys that fit their needs. It is called “GoBabyGo!” and its mission is to get children active through specially modified off-the-shelf ride-on toy cars.
Originally created in 2006 by James “Cole” Galloway, PT, PhD, professor and associate chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Delaware, the program brings together students of all disciplines interested in innovation and collaboration.
They create toys for young children who have conditions such as spina bifida, dwarfism, paralysis or complications from a premature birth that limit their mobility.
According to Samantha Corcoran, MSIE, engineering educator for the College of Engineering at Wichita State University, what started as a standard project took a deeper meaning when students met 3-year-old Jocelyn McNeese. McNeese has a form of dwarfism that causes congenital talipes equinovarus, or clubfoot.
After hearing about her condition, Corcoran; Nathan Smith, engineering lab manager; Jordan Phimmasone, engineering student; and Alice Hartman, physical therapy student at the university, decided to take action.
With the help of Beth Watkins, a speech language pathologist at Rainbows United, the team adopted GoBabyGo! to modify a ride-on toy car as a part of the Service Learning in Engineering course.
“Beth approached us to see if we could help some of the mobility-challenged children [who] she and other physical therapists served in the Wichita community,” Corcoran told O&P News.
“Nathan came on board with experience in electrical engineering and was ready to teach the students basic wiring and circuits and construction skills.”
Putting together the pieces
Students in the course work with a budget of $250 to $300 for each off-the-shelf car purchase. Additional supplies used to modify the cars include electronics, wiring, hardware, foam, polyvinyl chloride pipe and a Wichita State University sticker.
In McNeese’s case, students completely rewired the car and programmed a new joystick to replace the traditional steering wheel and the accelerator pedal. The team presented her new car in May.
Participants in the Service Learning in Engineering course also modified a car for a 1-year-old girl with spina bifida.
A motivating factor
Corcoran and students said the project is motivating, as it allows them to collaborate with other disciplines and use classroom experience for real-life situations.
“This project gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to helping a real person. They now have a customer who is depending on them for mobility and they have to work together to make it happen by the deadline,” Corcoran said. “Our engineering students learn quickly that they have to be able to work with students in other disciplines to be successful in this project. They learn to delegate and divide building tasks to be able to meet the deadline to deliver the car.”
She added, “Physical therapy students are mentored by professional therapists and learn how to talk with parents and interact with the children. Engineers and physical therapists get along well and have come up with some creative and simple ideas together.
“I think the students also realize how much they have in common with students from other disciplines and discover that their skill sets complement each other well.”
Since the initial project at the University of Delaware began, GoBabyGo! has expanded to more than 30 chapters nationwide and eight chapters internationally, according to Corcoran. The team is working to build more cars and expand the project.
Wichita State University’s GoBabyGo! chapter is accepting nonprofit tax-deductible donations for the project. – by Shawn M. Carter
Disclosure: Corcoran reports no relevant financial disclosures.