Adapting mini-cars for special ed needs

High school students in health and engineering academies launched project
By: | September 27, 2016

A project for young children with physical challenges enabled a group of high school students in Howard County Public Schools’ allied health and engineering academies to tailor motorized miniature cars to improve accessibility for some of the district’s preschool students.

“We wanted to empower our little ones to experience new things in school while creating an opportunity for our CTE students to learn” says Jane Jung-Potter, program head of physical therapy at the Maryland district’s special ed department.

Inspired by the University of Delaware’s GoBabyGo! initiative to increase children’s independence through the use of the cars, high school students first visited preschool students at Cedar Lane School to better understand their challenges and needs.

Backed by $2,500 in funding, the high school students divided into five teams to choose the most appropriate type of car, seat belts, padding and electrical components needed to customize the small vehicle, which has been popular among tykes. The acceleration and brakes on the car—as well as its maneuverability—were also fine-tuned.

One vehicle, an adapted motorcycle, helped a preschool student with motor skill challenges to stand, balance and move forward.

The students also considered caregiver’s needs for handling the vehicle. For instance, they installed a sensor to turn off the car if it moved too close to an obstacle.

The high school students also studied various physical challenges to further adapt the vehicle for the potential needs of future preschool classes. For example, finger, foot and head switches were added to give students more control over their vehicles.