CAL loaning toy cars to kids with disabilities | Local News

CAL loaning toy cars to kids with disabilities | Local News

MURRAY – A grant received last year by the Murray Center for Accessible Living is giving local children with disabilities the chance to ride around in toy big-wheel cars like many others their age.

According to a news release from the Louisville CAL office, the program making this service possible is GoBabyGo, which was created by Dr. Cole Galloway, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Delaware. GoBabyGo consultant Andrina Sabet said that about 10 years ago, Galloway was doing research in using robotics to assist children with disabilities, and his research was generating a great deal of interest from parents looking for practical applications for their children. 

“Knowing that the robotics were too expensive for any such applications at the time, (Galloway) began visiting toy stores for ideas of what he could adapt for use by children with significant disabilities,” the news release said. “What Dr. Galloway found was electric-powered ride-on toy cars. He could adapt them to switch control so a child would only have to press a big button off and on, install speed control so the cars couldn’t go too fast, and build a harness for small children who could not sit without support. Soon he had developed a series of workshops to teach groups to modify the cars out of the box on their own (DYI workshops), then began to search for ways to engage communities in adapting cars.”

There are now about 150 GoBabyGo chapters that have been developed across the U.S., as well as overseas. Carrissa Johnson, Murray’s CAL satellite office director, said her office is loaning the adaptive big wheels out to families for a six-month, long-term loan free of charge. She said the CAL had worked with Murray Head Start on the program and wants to expand community knowledge about it because it gives kids with disabilities the opportunity to “interact more with their peers on a level playing field.”

The toy vehicles being loaned out by Kentucky’s CAL offices were made possible by the Toyota Corporation, and Johnson said the cars are modeled on the Toyota Tundra. According to the Louisville CAL office, Toyota hosts an annual exposition for 1,500 engineers from around the world at their plant in Georgetown, and a Toyota staff member at the time, Amy Maddox, had heard about the GoBabyGo initiative. She suggested to Ben Atkinson, assembly engineer at the plant, that adapting toy cars might be a good project to include in the 2020 Exposition.

After a corporate vice president approved the project in about 90 seconds, Toyota began planning the project with GoBabyGo in February of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the exposition, but Atkinson pushed the project forward with the help of quality engineer Steve Hitchcock. After Hitchcock coordinated pilot teams of plant employees to improve the work instructions, the company bought 100 electric-powered toy Tundras and the teams conducted virtual builds from their homes while their workplaces were closed.

Johnson said her office was informed last spring that they would receive two cars, although the pandemic delayed the delivery. She said one of the cars is available for borrowing right now, and the other one is currently being used. 

“We have one of the cars gone right now, and it’s with a 3-year-old boy who has Down syndrome and has some (developmental) delays because of that,” Johnson said. “As far as I know, he’s happy with it. He was a little shy at first just because it moved kind of quickly, but he’s working with it in his therapy with the Early Head Start system.”

While the CAL helps people of all ages with disabilities, Johnson said that when she has an opportunity to work with children, it’s one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“It’s probably one of the more enjoyable parts of my job, sitting there and playing with little kids and giving them the opportunity to be able to get around with their peers and have fun,” Johnson said. “(The cars are meant to help) kids with mobility issues, developmental delays, any disability, really. In this little boy’s case, he has some social delays because of his Down syndrome, so the Toyota Tundra is going to get him out there with his peers.”