The gift of mobility: Modified ride-on cars means mobility for children with disabilites

By Costa Maragos Posted: December 18, 2017 12:00 p.m.

Adrian Taypotat and Jordan Spencer with their son Bentley Spencer, who has cerebral palsy. Thanks to the modified vehicle Jordan has more freedom of movement.
Adrian Taypotat and Jordan Spencer with their son Bentley Spencer, who has cerebral palsy. Thanks to the modified vehicle Jordan has more freedom of movement. Photos by Costa Maragos - External Relations

As 2-year old Bentley Spencer happily sits behind the wheel of his toy car, his mother, Adrian Taypotat, can’t help but marvel at what she’s seeing.

Bentley has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Until recently, it was not possible for Bentley to experience the same freedom of movement that other children his age enjoy.  

“It makes me feel so accomplished for my son,” says Taypotat, who is from the Kahkewistahaw First Nation. “It is a big milestone and a big accomplishment for us. It allows Bentley to do something other kids his age can do and that's a just great step for him."

This gift of mobility is thanks to a collaborative project involving researchers at the U of R’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and occupation and physical therapists at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. The ‘Zoom Kids’ project started about 18 months ago.

The U of R project is led by Dr. Raman Paranjape, Professor of Electronic Systems Engineering.

“I feel many different emotions when I think about our involvement in this project,” says Paranjape. “It is so rewarding to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the kids driving the little cars.”

Rehab Birk
Birk, who has cerebral palsy, loves his new car and new freedom.

This project got rolling when Paranjape was approached about 18 months ago by Kim Schaan, Occupational Therapist with the Children’s Program at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre. The idea comes from a similar program in Delaware.

Paranjape and a small team of his graduate students have been working diligently on plans to reconfigure the toy cars, purchased from a major retailer.

“The biggest challenge is to make the vehicle’s operation exactly suited to the skill and capability levels of the kids,” says Paranjape.

The vehicles’ modifications include ensuring the vehicle starts smoothly so that no jerking movements are experienced. For safety, the vehicles move at a reduced speed, but as Paranjape points out, "with enough speed to keep the child engaged."

Safety sensors were added to detect obstacles such as stairs or curbs as well as a thermal shutoff if the vehicle is in danger of being driven into a wall or other immovable objects.

The graduate students have played a key role in making sure these modifications work, with countless adjustments to ensure the cars operate at an optimal level for the kids

“Engineering is all about solving problems and that’s where we come in,” says Tokini Briggs, a U of R master's student in Electronic Systems Engineering.

“It feels great because our work is having a direct impact on a family. Helping a child so early on can set them on a great path for their future. I feel privileged to work on this.”

The team has delivered two modified ride-on cars so far, with two more on the way.   

“This project has opened so many doors for all of our therapists,” says Schaan. “Ideally we would like to have these four stay in-house with an addition of three or four more cars for a community loan program."

Donations and use of some internal funds at the U of R have made it possible to deliver the two vehicles. On top of that the U of R graduate students have been volunteering their time to make this project a reality. However, the project is in danger of hitting the breaks.

Currently, the funding for this program has dried up. For the project to continue, up to $30,000 will be required to pay for the time and equipment and improve upon the modifications already in place and expand the program to include additional vehicles.

“We are really hoping that we can find some support to work on this project more intensively,” says Paranjape. “The need is clearly there and we can make a real difference in the lives of children with mobility issues.”

The parents agree, including Julie Buium, whose daughter Khyla has been enjoying the vehicle during her visits to the rehabilitation centre.

“We feel like it’s a great thing. We’re all for it,” says Buium who lives in Lipton, SK. “This really does allow children who don’t have a lot of independence to experience a new level of freedom. We are thrilled to have this collaboration going on.”

Rehab Group
Teamwork. The vehicles have been modified by researchers in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied
Science in consultation with therapists at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre.
The U of R project is led by Dr. Raman Paranjape (Second from left).