Hol­i­day cheer: Stu­dents build hi-tech toys for dis­abled kids

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

JACK­SONVILLE: Be­cause of her cere­bral palsy, 4-year-old Scar­lett Wil­gis has trou­ble open­ing her hands and can’t get around with­out help. Her par­ents have scoured store shelves and web­sites look­ing for toys for her, but have mostly been dis­ap­pointed.

“Find­ing the toys at Wal­mart or Tar­get, they’re pretty much non-ex­is­tent,” said mom Dezaraye Wil­gis, sit­ting with Scar­lett in front of their twin­kling Christ­mas tree in St. Au­gus­tine. “Or if you get them through a med­i­cal sup­plier they’re ex­tremely ex­pen­sive.”

While ma­jor toy mak­ers have changed with the times and sell dolls with wheel­chairs and crutches, those de­signed to be used by chil­dren with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties like Scar­lett are still dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to find. Be­cause they have to be cus­tom­ized for each child, the cost can sky­rocket.

This co­nun­drum gave two Uni­ver­sity of North Florida pro­fes­sors an idea: mix en­gi­neer­ing and phys­i­cal ther­apy stu­dents in a lab with the goal of con­vert­ing toys from store shelves into cus­tom-made fun for dis­abled chil­dren. The Adap­tive Toy Project is now in its third year, and has drawn a 5-year grant from the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health. It is help­ing fam­i­lies like Scar­lett’s while giv­ing the stu­dents a dose of com­mu­nity ser­vice and real-world ex­pe­ri­ence that will stick with them long af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Dr Ali­son Cer­nich, a neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist and di­rec­tor at the NIH’s Eu­nice Kennedy Shriver Na­tional In­sti­tute of Child Health and Hu­man Devel­op­ment, said the agency funded the pro­gram be­cause it forces stu­dents from dif­fer­ent fields to col­lab­o­rate and solve a prob­lem in the com­mu­nity.

“This pro­gram is get­ting stu­dents in the early phases of their train­ing think­ing about or­di­nary ob­jects, toys, and how to adapt those toys so that chil­dren with lim­i­ta­tions can use and play with them like chil­dren with­out lim­i­ta­tions,” she said.

Cus­tom­ized cars

On a re­cent day, the school’s small lab buzzed with the sound of tools and chat­ter as stu­dents cus­tom­ized cars for their new own­ers. Chris Martin, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent, had re­moved the hood of Scar­lett’s car, ex­pos­ing its wires. A large push but­ton re­placed the steer­ing, and light sen­sors mounted un­der­neath the car will al­low it to fol­low a line of tape along the floor when­ever Scar­lett hits the but­ton. Now, Scar­lett’s par­ents can de­sign routes for the car with tape, or use a re­mote-con­trol mode for fam­ily walks.

When Martin first met Scar­lett’s mother, “she ac­tu­ally cried, and it just made me want to work harder,” Martin said. “I just want to make it as per­fect as pos­si­ble for her.” The cars re­tail be­tween $250 and $500; the cus­tomiza­tion makes them worth well over $1,000. The fam­i­lies, about 18 so far, get the cars free. — AP

— AP

JACK­SONVILLE: In this Thurs­day, Dec 1, 2016, photo, Uni­ver­sity of North Florida stu­dents, Gar­rett Bau­mann, right, Chris Martin, cen­ter, and Ja­son Pavichall, work to cus­tom­ize a toy car so that it can be used by a girl with cere­bral palsy at the uni­ver­sity in Jack­sonville, Florida.

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