This wasn't your usual case of "some assembly required." Employees at Fisher Price and education students from Central Connecticut State University joined together at the toy manufacturer's East Aurora grounds Thursday today to modify more than a half dozen Power Wheels vehicles, so that children with various mobility challenges may operate them.
Employees and students broke into teams and, before each team, was a disassembled Power Wheels kit. Each came with a special set of instructions, addressing how to redesign the operation of the vehicle to help the boy or girl receiving it operate it with their mobility challenge.
Gary Collins, Senior Manager of Design of Baby Gear at Fisher Price, this was much more than just putting a toy vehicle together. By giving a child with special needs a ride of their own, these teams will help foster their overall growth and development.
"With these children, if you can't play or experience mobility, you're not growing at a normal rate," he said. "What this does is it provides an opportunity for these families and these children to grow like any other child."
Partnering with Fisher Price and Central Connecticut State is GoBabyGo!, a program founded at the University of Delaware to design and provide toys which help mobility-challenged children move, play and learn. It has expanded to other colleges and universities nationwide. Its founder, Professor Cole Galloway, says there's even a chapter that has set up in New Zealand. He's looking to broaden Fisher Price's involvement, as he looks to grow the program in elementary, middle and high school classrooms.
"Kids around the country will be building as part of a science, technology, engineering and mathto understand that STEM is not just a means but it's an end to providing cars to give in communities," Galloway said. "We're hoping to get this in 100,000 classrooms."
Both Galloway and Collins say mobility is a human right.
The Central Connecticut State students particpating are studying to become educators. Olivia Franzese, a junior at Central Connecticut State, says this project is a learning experience for them, as well.
"It's always a challenge when we get kids and we don't have information on them. Once they are here, we have to move the buttons or we have to move the seats," she said. "When that happens, this is a big thing about us, being teachers. We all come together and collaborate on how we have to change those things, and what's the best decision."
It was noted that this was a banner week for STEM education and the young people involved with it. Just one day before, the world got its first glimpse at an image of a black hole, an image made possible by an algorithm crafted by Dr. Katie Bouman, a graduate student whose work allowed astronomers to convert data into visual history.
Back in East Aurora, Franzese spoke of the widespread relevance of and need for STEM skills.
"STEM is definitely a field that there's always something new happening in it," she said. "I think that the attention being brought to this project is so important. It can be applied literally anywhere you live, any job you have. There are toy designers here helping us modify cars for kids with disabilities with teachers, teaching future teaching students, which is a huge deal for us."
Families were anticipated to arrive at the East Aurora complex later in the day to test the vehicles. A special track was set up, including a flat road path, as well as specially created playsets including a car wash, coffee drive-through and gas and electric station. The sets were created using packaging from Power Wheels kits and were well-detailed. The car wash was even programmed to jettison bubbles as foam brushes turned, activated by a sensor that could be touched by the passing vehicle.
The vehicles will get plenty more use after they've been properly fitted with their respective young clients.
"These children in particular will be driving these vehicles with their occupational therapists," Collins said. "It will be something they will use three to five times a week for the next two to three years."
Galloway says when the cars are presented, and children are first operating them, there is usually not a dry eye in the room. With a smile, though, he also said life at home is never the same once the kids have their new rides.
"These families will understand very quickly they've got a monster on their hands," he said with a laugh. "There will be pets that are running for cover. Fisher Price and myself will probably get phone calls from moms, going 'you know you've created a monster? We've got brothers that are crying. I can't find the cat. There's a banana in the DVD player.'"
But Galloway says there's something else these parents will tell them: "'Don't you ever stop what you're doing.'"