Physical Therapy Department to Host GoBabyGo! Memphis, Bringing Mobility to Children with Special Needs Through Custom-Modified Toy Cars

Initiative Retrofits Ride-on Toy Cars for Children with Mobility Issues; Promotes Movement, Sociability and Fun

GoBabyGo! Memphis
At GoBabyGo! Memphis, children with mobility issues can try out retrofitted ride-on toy cars in the safety of a specially designed “obstacle course.”

Those shiny motorized cars for sale at toy stores are off-limits to some children with mobility issues that prevent them from being able to maneuver them. But on a Saturday in September, a dozen children with limited mobility will get the chance to take one out for a spin, thanks to the students and faculty in the Physical Therapy Department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).

On September 10, the PT Department will bring the national GoBabyGo! program to Memphis, providing off-the-shelf toy cars that have been custom modified for a group of children, ages 13 months to 4 years old, who otherwise might not be able to use them. Push buttons will be added for those who can’t operate switches, support structures will be designed for those who can’t sit up, voice- or head-controls will help those who lack hand mobility. Once the cars are modified, the children will get a chance to try them out in the safety of a specially designed “obstacle course” on campus, before taking them home.

First-year PT students under the direction of Roberta “Bertie” Gatlin, PT, ScD, PCS, assistant professor and admissions chair in the PT Department, will host GoBabyGo! Memphis in the Student-Alumni Center at UTHSC. Bioengineering students from the University of Memphis are providing adaptive design expertise. Variety Children’s Charities has designated it a signature event, contributing funds to help purchase the cars.

Permobil, a provider of power wheelchairs and mobility products, has donated all the adaptive switches, electrical circuit wiring and various forms of equipment for the cars. Numotion, also a provider of custom wheelchairs and assistive products, is partnering with Permobil to provide adaptive joysticks, head controls, support straps seatbelts and other modifications. Because each car costs $500 to $800 to complete, project organizers are soliciting donations to support the event and sponsorships for individual cars at uthscalumni.com/gobabygo.

Work on the project began months ago, as the children were chosen through referral from community therapists, and assessed to make sure they were able to understand simple instructions necessary for safely operating a toy vehicle once it is modified. Students have been meeting with the children to determine what modifications are necessary for each child, and several sessions are planned this month, when the cars will be put together and the modifications for postural needs, power manipulation and any other safety accommodations will be made.

The September event, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., will start with a finishing “build,” during which each car will get final modifications. Parents and children will be invited to join in the process to individualize cars with stickers or decorations. The GoBabyGo! Memphis Rodeo, when the children test-drive the cars, will be from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The GoBabyGo! program was launched in 2006 at the University of Delaware by Cole Galloway, PhD, FAPTA, as a way to help children with mobility issues move, play, socialize and have fun like their peers. More than 50 universities have hosted events similar to the one scheduled at UTHSC.

Gatlin said she initiated the GoBabyGo! event at UTHSC for several reasons. She hopes to give PT students early experience in project planning and in working with children with mobility issues. She also wants to help the children and families access something they never thought they could use. “These kids don’t have an opportunity to go out and purchase a power car,” she said. “They can’t just go to Babies “R” Us and buy one, because the cars need modifications.”

PT Student Taylor Gaulden said she’s happy the project will give her the chance to collaborate with her classmates and help her learn more about adaptive technology. But she said there is an even greater reason she is working on GoBabyGo! Memphis. “I am excited about giving these kids the opportunity for mobility.”