It took four-year old Maddex Hart only 15 minutes to learn
to maneuver the joystick of the Spiderman riding toy that was designed just for
him. Once he got the hang of it, he was off.
The joystick— which was engineered by University of North
Florida students — enables Maddex, who was born with cerebral palsy, to move
around, steer and accelerate without using the pedals or a steering wheel.
“It was exciting to see him understand what the car does,”
said Kristin Ehler, a second year doctoral student who worked with other UNF
physical therapy and engineering students to retrofit the toy. “The project
allowed me not only to see what I may be doing in the future; but also showed
me that we really can change the life of a child.”
The project is part of a Transformational Learning
Opportunity that brings together undergraduate engineering students and
physical therapy graduate scholars to adapt ride-on toys for children with
The GoBabyGo adaptive toy initiative was started in fall
2014 by Dr. Juan Aceros, an assistant engineering professor, and Dr. Mary
Lundy, assistant professor in the doctor of physical therapy program. Lundy
said the idea came from graduate students working in the field who recognized
that young children with disabilities needed more opportunities for play during
the critical years of cognitive development, as well as greater access to
adaptive toys, which are expensive and often hard to find.
Aceros said there is a huge demand for the toys, which are
loaned to children as long as they need them or until they outgrow them. They
work with therapists from local healthcare organizations, such as Brooks
Rehabilitation, Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital and Duval County Public Schools,
to get the toys to children who can benefit from them.
Aceros said it’s a win-win for everyone involved. While the
children get a toy that will benefit them, the hands-on learning experience is
valuable to both the engineering and PT students. And since the two disciplines
approach challenges very differently, the students said working together has
been particularly rewarding.
“Potential employers also see that students are building
things, not just doing something on paper,” he said. “They are addressing a
real problem and making a difference.”
April Hart, Maddex’s mother, said she is amazed by the
dedication of the UNF students involved. She said they’ve gotten just as
excited about the project as the children receiving the adaptive toys.
“The students faces light up as much as the kids,” she said.
Hart is especially grateful for the new opportunities the
program opens up for her son who, for the first time, will be able to maneuver
around his environment — and do it on his own.
“It’s a first for him,” she said. “This is a mountain.”
Aceros said they hope to continue to expand the program to
reach even more children in the community. Expansion plans could mean including
students from other disciplines, such as UNF’s Coggin College of Business, or
even creating a fellowship position to manage the lending library of toys and
The multidisciplinary, hands-on project serves as a model
for other universities, and Aceros said he and Lundy are getting inquiries from
other institutions seeking to duplicate it.