Joyriding down a school hallway could easily result in detention. But when the “open road” of Scott Elementary beckoned this fall, it was Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) physical therapist Jean Neidig who encouraged a hesitant second grader to take a test drive.
Because of mobility issues, 8-year-old Charleigh Garrett can’t pedal a traditional bike. She can—and did—however, zip past classrooms on a highly customized set of wheels designed and developed by USI students.
“She was excited,” says Neidig. “She was surprised how fast it went, I think.”
In the summer of 2019, USI occupational therapy (OT) students Kate Duty ’20 and Taylor VanCleave ’20 happily agreed to help with a relay race at EVSC’s annual Special Olympics Unified Champions Game Day—a field day for students with special needs. They soon realized Dr. Karen Dishman, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, didn’t want them to volunteer; as part of her class, she expected them to create a race activity students could enjoy, regardless of their physical challenges.
VanCleave suggested an adapted hand cycle bike that would allow students who couldn’t walk or run to ride, powering the wheels with their hands instead of feet. But with limited resources and construction skills, they needed to simplify. The back and harness they eventually added to a scooter board, allowing students to be safely pushed on a track, wasn’t fancy. But it was fun. And an upgrade was on the way.
Going high tech
Every engineering student at USI completes a senior design project. As Logan James ’20, Trevor Yoder ’20 and Alessandro Trujillo ’20 discussed ideas, Duty and Van Cleve’s adaptive bicycle/tricycle, shared with them during class, rose to the top of their list.
“We had originally thought of doing a project for [a large company], but then we thought this would be more of a longer lasting impact project …. And a more meaningful project,” said Yoder.
“It impacted kids … and it was also kind of open to how we wanted to do it and design it,” added James.
After brainstorming concepts, they ordered a tricycle frame and prepared to adjust it to meet the OT students’ specifications, making it functional and safe.
Time and distance limitations prevented Trujillo, James and Yoder from adding everything they’d initially planned to the project; for example, they’d hoped to install a swivel seat making it easier for children to transition from their wheelchairs to the tricycle. “Maybe in the future, another engineering group will try to upgrade the version we created,” said Trujillo.
For now though, their version is doing exactly what they hoped: making an impact.
“It’s really awesome that our small idea grew so much,” said Duty.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Dishman said. “Seeing this actually happen is a dream come true for me. This is why I got into the profession.”
For more than a year—from concept and completion to action and opportunity—it’s been a ride. A joyride.
“It’s phenomenal,” added Neidig. “There will always be someone who will benefit from it.”