In the driver’s seat with GoBabyGo

MICHELE LEHMAN For the Journal Sep 6, 2016 |

EUREKA — A Eureka service organization and two local banks have given the gift of mobility to a Washington child with a crippling disease.

Eureka Greater Area Kiwanis Club, Goodfield State Bank and Heartland Bank provided $300 to purchase and modify a battery-operated toy ride-on car for 4-year-old Nadia Aberle, who suffers from spina bifida.

The car was retrofitted and recently given to Nadia and her parents, B.J. and Vickie Aberle, at Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, said Kiwanian Nancy Aldridge of Eureka, who helped retrofit the car.

“We modified the car to fit Nadia so that she can reach the pedals and also make it move,” Aldridge said. “Nadia was very quick to learn to maneuver her car. It was awesome to see how excited she was when she first made the car go.”

Nadia’s mom agreed. “It was easy for her to learn to maneuver with the hand-held controls. She loves it,” said Vickie Aberle.

Now, Nadia motors around her neighborhood participating in outdoor activities with the other kids, including her sisters, Tori, 8, and Elli, 7.

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Children with little mobility get some vroom to maneuver thanks to modified battery-boosted rides


Now Madeline Hauschild will be able to drive a toy car just like her brother.

On Wednesday, Madeline, 3, received a battery-operated toy car modified so that she could sit in it and make it go forward by pushing a large button on the steering wheel. Madeline, who has cerebral palsy, was one of six small children who received cars through a program overseen by the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Close to 50 UNMC physical therapy students and University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering students retrofitted off-the-shelf cars to give them push-button propulsion. Some children, because of their conditions and development delays, can’t push pedals on the floor. The UNMC and UNL students also tweaked seats in the small cars to provide support and cushion for children who struggle to sit up.

The program is part of an initiative called GoBabyGo! conceived several years ago at the University of Delaware. The cars give children with little mobility the opportunity to play, explore and socialize rather than feeling stuck and dependent on parents or siblings to move them around.

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Why Power Wheels Are the Perfect Physical Therapy Tool for Kids

Winter Haven child gets the gift of mobility

WINTER HAVEN | Ava Brown was 18 months old. She hadn’t crawled. She hadn’t said a word. She hadn’t even sat up on her own.

And then, one afternoon in Orlando, she was moving—and she was moving fast.

“She was just out loud laughing and giggling,” said Kay Bowman, Ava’s grandmother. “She just couldn’t get enough of it. I was in tears.”

In May, members of the University of Central Florida’s physical therapy faculty joined GoBabyGo, a University of Delaware-based mobility research and development team, to purchase toy ride-on vehicles and retrofit them for children with special needs.

Ava was one of those children.

Ava was two days overdue when her mother died suddenly, leaving her without oxygen for an hour.

The doctors said she wouldn’t make it through the night but Ava, “the miracle baby,” survived.

The experience left her with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills.

A lack of oxygen during birth is one of the causes.

Thankfully, in most cases, including Ava’s, intelligence levels are not affected.

“She’s a smart little girl; she just can’t talk or sit up yet,” grandfather Rodney Brown said. “You can tell she wants to. You can hear her grunting, trying, but she physically can’t.”

And that’s where GoBabyGo came in.

Bowman was reading a copy of Woman’s Day magazine when she came across an article about the program. After a little more digging, she found that Cole Galloway, founder of the program, would be at UCF in May, helping to get cars built for kids in Florida who needed them. She reached out to Jennifer Tucker, a member of the UCF physical therapy faculty who helped spearhead the event.

Tucker said Ava’s family and 10 others showed up for the workshop. Each left with his or her own, personalized motorized car.

“The focus of the research is bringing innovative and accessible tools for mobility to children with impairments,” Tucker said. “This work is so important because it offers a fun, innovative, accessible way to promote mobility in young children – there is not an avenue in current health care that offers this mobility.”

The cars at the workshop, complete with all the necessary components— which are nothing more than PVC pipe, pool noodles, boogie boards and some re-worked wiring— were given out free of charge and the families of the children took part in the building process.

Rodney Brown finished Ava’s car in a matter of hours and the family stood by expectantly as she was buckled in.

“We weren’t sure if she was going to get it,” Ava’s aunt, Katie Wibirt, said. “But it took her like 10 seconds.”

In Ava’s car, the pedals were removed, and a dinner plate sized red button on the steering wheel now acts as the gas.

“As soon she pressed that button, her face lit up,” Brown said. “She realized she could go on her own and she just went.”

“And she’ll just go and go until she hits something.” Wibirt added, smiling. “We had to install a kill switch.”

PVC pipe wrapped in a pool noodle surrounds the cab to prevent her from falling out or hitting the hard plastic sides and a boogie board attached to the backrest of the seat adds extra support. These two things plus the aftermarket seatbelt turns Ava’s toy into a therapeutic device.

“Ava cannot get therapy; there is no one that will fund therapy for her every day of the week,” Tucker said “But if she has sensory motor exploration every week, that opens doors – she becomes the driver of her own destiny.”

The car offers that exploration without the price tag typically attached to motorized wheelchairs, “plus there’s a stigma that comes with having the big, bulky chair …. People just stare,” Bowman said.

“He’s (Galloway) not doing it for the money. He doesn’t even have a patent.”

All of the instructions are available online and everything you need to construct one can be bought at Toys-R-Us and The Home Depot— $300 compared to tens of thousands.

“The crux of Dr. Galloway’s work is that accessibility,” Tucker said. “It’s cheap and very easy. It only takes an hour and a half and the impact can reach across a life span.”

And Galloway makes sure that he and his people are readily available for anyone needing help along the way.

“I’ve gone on Facebook and messaged their page and they are more than happy to respond,” Wibirt said. “And if you come with an innovation on your own that helps your child, something he hasn’t encountered, he wants that.”

Galloway said it’s that kind of innovation that initially sparked GoBabyGo and continues to play a pivotal role.

“It stemmed from doing National Science Foundation research,” Galloway said. “We had data showing that kids could drive mobile robots…. but robots were never going to get out and I don’t think it’s ethical to dangle something like that.”

At that time, Galloway’s research revolved around small robotic devices, but the machinery was very pricey and complex.

“Finally that got to me; six months later I was going around and talking about this. I finally woke up and said, ‘Look, we have to stop this work or find a low cost solution.’ We went to Toys-R-Us.”

Jeremy Brown, Ava’s Dad, said he can see the change taking place in his daughter.

“We take her on walks, get her outside,” he said. “She can’t quite steer yet by she’s learning. She loves it.”

And that, Galloway says, is the key to all of this—the fun factor.

“Play for kids is work,” he said. “Play encompasses everything. She can increase her function while she is participating with peers, while she is learning.”

“Ava needs to, at the very least, be independently mobile; she should be able to go where she wants to go when she wants to go. That’s a human right – we are talking about providing humans on the planet with what we have all agreed on is a basic need.”

Tucker said UCF has another workshop tentatively scheduled for December. For more information, e-mail her at

[ Clifford Parody can be contacted at clifford.parody@theledger.comor 863-802-7550. ]

FUNctional Fashion Show, Cross-disciplinary Solutions

Designs for Healthy Living

Exhibition features FUNctional fashion show, cross-disciplinary solutions

Martha Hall is used to the funny looks and questions she gets when she tells people that she’s the fashion designer for the University of Delaware’s GoBabyGo program.

“Everyone wants to know why a physical therapy department would need a fashion designer,” says Hall, who teaches in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies but is also part of a team that designs, makes prototypes and tests garment-based devices for kids with special needs.

This spring, those two interests came together when Hall taught a new childrenswear course called FUNctional Fashion, which paired apparel students and kids to co-design garments that would address specific clothing-related challenges.

The FUNctional Fashion Team, which runs under the GoBabyGo umbrella, is led by Michele Lobo, assistant professor of physical therapy.

On the evening of April 10, a “red carpet” was laid out in the Health Sciences Complex atrium at UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus for a princess, a ninja and other young fashionistas to show off their style to attendees at the Designs for Healthy Living Exhibition.

In addition to the fashion show, the exhibition featured research addressing a broad range of health issues, from human and animal health to physical and emotional health to the health of society and the planet. The exhibition was curated by Dilia Lopez-Gydosh, assistant professor of fashion and apparel studies.

“Innovation happens when we collaborate with others who have a completely different toolbox than we do,” Hall said in welcoming community members and University faculty, staff and students to the event. “We can show one another new ways of addressing health challenges that really make a significant impact.”

Exhibits and demonstrations from four of UD’s seven colleges highlighted a broad range of topics including zero waste fashions, devices to facilitate mobility, food safety, community health promotion and interpretive horticulture.

Kids played with adapted toy race cars, and families lined up at the GoBabyGo Café for complimentary ice cream from the UDairy Creamery, while representatives of UD’sHealthcare Theatre Program demonstrated devices that provide realistic training for nursing students.

Senior apparel design student Dani Civil created a princess dress for 4-year-old Natalie, who has Down syndrome, in Hall’s FUNctional Fashion class.

“Natalie’s older sister, Hannah, has commercial princess dresses that Natalie wanted to wear, but the fit and closures of these dresses weren’t working for her,” Hall said in announcing the young model’s walk down the runway during the fashion show.

For Civil, her client’s excitement about the “pink ponte knit tea-length dress with full tulle skirt and chiffon cap sleeves” made the project very rewarding.

“It meant so much to me to do this for Natalie with input from her and her family,” Civil said. “Everything else I’ve made has been for me.”

Hall would like to teach the class again, and she also plans to continue her quest to bring together people whose paths might not otherwise cross at UD.

“Working with Michele Lobo and Cole Galloway in the GoBabyGo Program has been one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally,” Hall says. “I can’t imagine a better place to apply my skills as a designer. Initiatives like Design for Healthy Living are a way to bring researchers from different areas of UD together, sharing interests in similar topics.”

Ashley Pigford, assistant professor of visual communications in UD’s Department of Art, came to the exhibition to engage the public with robots making art.

“The idea behind this is to teach technology as a means rather than an end,” he said.

Pigford shared space at the exhibition with a registered student organization, Design, Innovation, and Positivity, which “connects students that have ideas with students that can take those ideas to the next level.”

That’s exactly what Hall had in mind when she launched Designs for Healthy Living.

Article by Diane Kukich | Video by Ashley Barnas | Photos by Doug Baker