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UNF engineers bring an early Christmas to children with disabilities

Students at UNF build one of a kind toys for children with disabilities

Colin McCann

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Video by Carly Kramer

The joint effort between physical therapy students and engineering students at the University of North Florida made the Adaptive Toy Project  possible, benefitting many disabled Jacksonville kids.

The purpose of the project was to create a toy specifically adapted to suit the needs of disabled children. Once the children were chosen, the physical therapy students determined their specific needs. When their needs were determined, the engineering students took over, creating one of a kind toys  .

Sophomore and therapy student Caddy Locke has her eyes set on becoming a pediatric physical therapist, and she said this event gave her the experience and connections she needs. But more importantly, she was excited to see the look on the children’s faces when they got their new toys. In her opinion, making the toys was a fun way to get involved.

Timothy’s car created by Caddy Locke. Photo by Colin McCann.

In addition to creating a car for a 4-year-old boy named Timothy, Locke also created a bubble machine with a large button to easily turn it on. She said the machine will help him learn cause and effect. Timothy’s mom, Jamie Donohue, explained that her son has a genetic disorder called Leigh syndrome, which keeps Timothy from sitting down or walking on his own.

Donohue said the event means a lot to her, because it gives Timothy a chance to feel normal, and it means he can go outside to play with his brothers without being left behind.

Senior and electronic engineering major Joseph Trevino created a car for a boy named Preston who suffers from weakened muscles and impaired cognitive progression. The car has a special chair that was designed with pressure sensors. Trevino said it is similar to a segway, giving Preston the ability to direct and power the car by simply leaning the way he wants to go. According to Trevino, this will also help him build core strength.

Another toy car was created with the ability to stay within a set boundary. By marking a boundary line on the ground, and with the use of a camera under the front of the car, the toy can be kept within a confined space.

This event was created by assistant professor in the physical therapy program Mary Lundy and assistant professor of electrical engineering Juan Aceros. Lundy said the process that led to the Adaptive Toy Project began when students in the physical therapy program went out into the community for their internship. When they came back, they said children in Jacksonville needed more affordable access to assistive technology. So, with the help of Aceros, a course was created for both therapy and engineering students to serve the children in the community.

Aceros said, “The main goal is to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities.” He explained that the course is being run on internal funding from UNF and a grant. Additionally, they just received a $500,000 five year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For the future, Lundy says, “Wherever our imagination takes us is where we are going to go.”

The event came to a close as children and parents left with the new toys and smiles on their faces. For Lundy, Aceros, and the students that were involved, the day was a success.

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UNF engineers bring an early Christmas to children with disabilities