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The Adaptive Toy Project:

A partnership between Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital and UNF


 Adaptive Toy Project 3

Imagine a class so extraordinary that the students’ work is featured as a truly inspirational story on CNN Christmas Day 2016. Professors Mary Lundy and Juan Aceros (of Physical Therapy and Electrical Engineering) have partnered together on this project for 4 years, and with Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital for 3 years as of Fall 2017.  Adaptive Toy Project 1

UNF students adapt toy cars to provide a disabled child the opportunity to engage in the kind of play other families take for granted. To see the joy on the family's faces, the ecstasy on the faces of the children who are able to move in space "on their own" for the first time in their lives, and to see the care and attention the UNF students give to the kids is inspirational.




It all started when students in the Doctorate in Physical Therapy program returned from community internships and approached Dr. Lundy about the need for accessible, affordable adaptive toys for children with motor disabilities in our community. When colleagues in the departments of Engineering and Physical Therapy got together to talk about opportunities to collaborate, Professor of Physical Therapy Mary Lundy talked with Professor of Engineering Juan Aceros and decided to investigate how to meet this need. The Go Baby Go program founded by Drs. Cole Galloway and Dr. Suni Agrawal at the University of Delaware served as a resource for adapting ride on toys through an engineering/ Physical therapy partnership. It was Dr. Acero’s idea to create the course to involve a significant number of students in this project. Dr. Lundy identified community partners through her relationships with area therapists: Wolfson Children's Hospital, Duval county schools and Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital became partners.   



The Project exists in 70 different countries, but the partnership at UNF is unique.  Here the courses function as two concurrent courses, enrolling graduate Physical Therapy students in PHT 79991 and undergraduate Engineering students in EEL 4930. Students attend lectures together on topics such as neuroscience and technology, developmental disabilities, and assistive technology principles including assessment, construction, and design.  The class is divided into teams that include both disciplines. Over the course of the semester the students redesign and personalize a motorized vehicle for a disabled child, learning from one another and from “their” family and child.

Adaptive Toy Project 2

  • It is the only one in the world that relies on students rather than professional volunteers.
  • It is the only one in the world where the practitioners have an ongoing personal relationship with the families and the child


In some cases that “personal relationship” continues after the course is over.  The UNF students become part of the family with whom they have worked.



As the two professors began talking about co-teaching a course, it seemed the perfect fit for a University committed to community engagement. At the time, three years before CNN coverage, it seemed a complex and daring experiment.  The complexities in the community require effective communication, a dependable referral process, as well as the placement of non-clinical and clinical students in family and community settings. The courses are daring in that they put a lot of responsibility on the students; the project is daring because as these two very different disciplines began to work together, the students (and the faculty!) discovered that they “spoke different languages.” The National Institute of Health funds the program precisely because "It forces students from different fields to collaborate and solve a problem in the community," according to Dr. Alison Cernich, of the NIH.


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Transformational learning is one of UNF’s defining features.  The Adaptive Toy Project is transformational in every sense of the word: Brooks is able to extend its commitment to patients and their families; the lives of children and their families are enriched; students become especially well-prepared to solve a real-world problem when the course consists of students from different disciplines.  This is an experience the students will remember for the rest of their lives. Surveys taken during the class suggest it changes their career/life planning. As one student put it, “This has made me want to work on an interdisciplinary team—I believe interdisciplinary work is the future in addressing health related impairments.” Pre- and post- course assessments find that these courses produce statistically significant increases in “concern and commitment to public welfare,” “civic responsibility,” and “ability and affinity to work together in inter-professional groups”; these outcomes align with the accrediting goals of both the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and Accreditation Board to Engineering and Technology.  


For more information about the Adaptive Toy Project, please visit: