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Customized Adaptive Car Delights Mobility-Challenged Ridgefield Students
Marie Bouvier
Thursday, February 13, 2020

With a cool red racing seat, multicolored LED light bars, and a Bluetooth audio system, the battery-powered car looks cool to all kinds of kids.  But to one group of students at Union Ridge Elementary School, the car represents a new kind of freedom.  Mobility-challenged kids will be able to spend recess and play time in the adaptive car, custom designed by high school students at Innovation Ridge Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS). 

This adaptive car was custom-designed for mobility-challenged kids by students at the Innovation Ridge Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS).

CAPS students are asked to solve real-world problems as business projects—and in this case, their project deliverable was the actual car.  Malachi Lee, Tyler Poorman, Bridget Donaldson, and Emiley Bell took on the grant-funded project for the Ridgefield School District, modifying a child-sized, battery-powered car so it could be driven by students with mobility issues. 

They met with students and teachers to determine how to make the car operable for different mobility issues.  The goal was to make the students as independent as possible, while still keeping them safe.    

The design went through a few iterations.  They replaced the gas pedal with adaptive controls in the center of the steering wheel.  For safety, they added a taller and sturdier car seat with padded harnesses.  And they built a remote control with an override feature allowing teachers to drive, steer, and brake the car if needed.

But the CAPS students didn’t stop there.  They added LED light bars that changed colors, a horn button, and a Bluetooth audio system for the students’ favorite songs.  “We took every chance we had to make this special for those kids,” Lee said.  “Everything on here is to make it their own.” 

The controls are modified to allow for easy steering, driving and braking--and there is even a Bluetooth audio system.  

The big test was introducing it to the students.  Holden Crain and Medade Benedick were excited for their test drive.  Gretchen Lincoln, a paraprofessional, helped Holden from his wheelchair and got him buckled into the car.  He was a little nervous at first—until he pushed the horn button.  Honk, honk, honk, honk!  Holden grinned as he mashed the button some more. 

The CAPS students showed Lincoln how to use the remote control to drive Holden around.  In a matter of minutes, he was going backwards and forward, straight and in circles.  His face lit up; he laughed and clapped as the car changed directions.  They played the Wheels on the Bus on the sound system.  He was having such a great time he didn’t want to leave the car.  “More!” 

Holden Crain is transferred from a wheelchair to the adaptive car ...

... and goes for his first drive.

Medade Benedick was next in line.  She wheeled herself up to the car, where physical therapist Gita Hajj showed her how to climb in.  Hajj drove with the remote control at first, but Benedick asked to do it herself.  The CAPS students demonstrated the steering, and she drove off in a long, arcing circle—then did the same circle smoothly in reverse.   She mastered the controls in no time, finally pulling to a stop to pose for some pictures with the CAPS students. 

Holden was ready for a second turn and watched Medade drive up.  “My own,” he said softly; he was enjoying the car so much he wanted one of his own.  Fortunately, the CAPS students had thought ahead; they had already drafted plans to show others how to construct the adaptive cars.  And the students will have ample opportunity to drive the car; it will remain with the program at Union Ridge.

Medade Benedick parks the car for a quick photo with the CAPS students (left to right) Malachi Lee, Bridget Donaldson and Tyler Poorman.

The CAPS students will be showcasing their adaptive car at a CAPS conference in Seattle in spring.  Two other Ridgefield CAPS groups will also be sharing their projects:  the planning and opening of the Birds and the Beans coffee shop, and the creation of a design for an inclusive playground.  With these and other successful projects under their belts, the CAPS students will be ready to jump into their next big challenge.

The CAPS program plans to continue to partner with area businesses on a wide range of projects.  Mentors and guest speakers are also welcome.  For more information, contact CAPS Business Development Specialist Andrea Reinertson at andrea.reinertson@ridgefieldsd.org