College Students Customize Toys for Disabled Kids

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

College education isn't only meant to give a student a great career after graduation. For engineering and physical therapy students at the University of North Florida, it's also a way to learn skills that will greatly help the lives of disabled kids.

Mary Lundy, a professor of physical therapy at the UNF, has co-started what is called the "Adaptive Toy Project" which is in its third year now, reports the Associated Press. In this project, engineering students work with physical therapy students to create customized toys that will bring joy to a disabled child - and the child's parents.

Engineering students teach the physical therapy students how to customize toy cars, and in return they also learn how to make designs that are specific for each person, Lundy says. This teaches them how to look at each of their clients differently.

Toy cars for disabled kids are pretty hard, if not impossible, to find. Dezaraye Wilgis, mother of a 4-year-old child suffering from cerebral palsy, Scarlett, says they're "nonexistent" in retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, and are very expensive when acquired through a medical supplier.

Toy cars retail for about $250 to $500 each. Customizing the car to a child's specific needs will cost more than $1,000. This makes it hard for Scarlett to have a normal life just like any other children.

Chris Martin, an engineering student who met with Dezaraye, says he was motivated to work hard on a car when he saw Scarlett's mom cry. He says he'll work hard to make it "perfect for her."

Martin and his colleagues worked on a car by replacing substituting various parts and attaching new ones. They replaced the steering wheel with a large push button for easy operation, and attached light sensors beneath the car to follow a line of tape every time Scarlett presses the button. This means her parents can make their own safety tracks at home using tape.

Moreover, they also made it possible for the car to be operated remotely, which means Scarlett's parents can drive the car for her when they go out.

Toy cars produced by the Adaptive Toy Project are for free. So far, there are 18 recipients, and Scarlett is one of them.

Scarlett is now happily riding her toy car, thanks to the Adaptive Toy Project, which received funding from the National Institutes of Health. Because of this, she won't be trapped by a wheelchair anymore, says Dezaraye.

"It's amazing," Dezaraye says.

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