It has been about five years and a cross country move since I worked at Adaptive Design Association (ADA) in New York, so it came as a surprise when I received a message about a possible project – a custom scooter. An occupational therapist near my home in Los Angeles discovered the ADA through internet searches and made an inquiry for a student, Kaylee. Since the ADA knew I lived in the region they put us in touch to see if I could make something that would work for her.
I met Kaylee (a super charming and funny kindergartener) at her school with her father and several members of her team: some teachers, her OT, PT, aid, and the school nurse. The objective was pretty straightforward: get Kaylee moving independently during free time. She had several devices that positioned her for doing schoolwork and moving safely, but none that she could operate by herself to access the toys around the room. She showed me some of the devices her grandfather made for her to use at home, but the school had some concerns around using them safely in the classroom setting.
Kaylee showed me how she uses her torso to thrust forward, since she has limited mobility in her legs and arms. I was able to watch her scoot around on her awesome modified Spin N' Saucer, which gave me a decent idea of where to begin. We created a wish list for the scooter with the whole team that included a back rest, a way to buckle her in without restraining her torso, moving the seat to a more comfortable height, a memory foam cushion, and (possibly) a handle. I took measurements of Kaylee and the classroom, and went from there.
The plan was to bring Kaylee a working prototype to test in a couple of weeks. The challenge was to figure out how to do that outside the comforts of Adaptive Design's headquarters. Where could I find the materials? How long could my kitchen table be a workshop? Thankfully, there are lots of hardware stores, and Amazon delivers tri-wall cardboard! I'm also fortunate to have the Community Woodshop nearby, so I was able to do the bulk of the cutting and assembling outside of my tiny apartment. The most critical part of the ADA –the people –were an email away when I had questions to bounce off of them.
When we tested the prototype scooter and I had a few tweaks to make. The general
size worked well for her to access the activities around the room, and was tall enough to have her head above the classroom tables. Kaylee's feet were getting caught under the seat, and the wheel placement needed to be changed to increase stability. The wheels themselves needed to be changed to more easily glide on carpet, and I had to bring down the overall weight of the device for more maneuverability. I brought a bunch of paint samples so Kaylee could choose the finished style of her ride.
After another couple of weeks, I was able to deliver the finished, very purple project. Kaylee now has several options for getting around her classroom, and one of them moves on her own steam!
About the Author: Christie Leece is a designer based in Los Angeles, California. She grew particularly fond of working with cardboard during her tenure at the ADA and takes every opportunity to blow minds with it's abilities.