As part of the Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia program, students from Temple University are creating custom adaptive equipment out of cardboard to help students with cerebral palsy participate in school and social activities.
About Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia
With the help of a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, The Institute on Disabilities at Temple University created the Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia program to provide assistive devices to children with mobility issues.
The grant allowed Alex Truesdell, a specialist in affordable adaptive devices for children with disabilities, to visit Temple University. There, she trained local occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, faculty members and staff to fabricate assistive devices at a woodshop in Philadelphia.
Under the program, occupational therapy students at the university are designing unique solutions to everyday challenges faced by kids with cerebral palsy, paralysis or other movement disorders. The university students have already presented their custom adaptive equipment to 30 students at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy.
The Adaptive Design Program Makes Equipment Affordable
Commercially made adaptive equipment is extremely expensive. Unfortunately, the high cost of the equipment means that many families are unable to take advantage of these useful devices. Even when parents can afford the cost, children quickly outgrow their equipment and require new assistive tools as they develop.
Cardboard Materials Keep Costs Low
The assistive devices produced in the Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia program are inexpensive and much more customized than commercial products. The equipment is made from durable yet lightweight cardboard. This cardboard is surprisingly strong, easy to work with and inexpensive, making it the perfect material for these projects.
Many of the cardboard devices can be altered as the child grows or refit for another child to use. This makes the project very sustainable and affordable.
Students Put Considerable Care Into Each Adaptive Design
Each child with cerebral palsy faces unique challenges. Addressing these with a one-size-fits-all piece of commercial equipment is difficult.
Since cardboard is easy to manipulate, individualized designs are solving this issue. For example, one 19-year-old received a custom-built visor that allows her to use her eye-tracking communication device outside without being burdened by disruptive glares from the sun.
Every piece of equipment in the program is created to meet the exact needs of each child. Students and therapists are putting careful consideration into the design based on what the child wants to be able to do. Before building a piece of equipment, students interview each child to find out what tools they need to engage in the activities they love.
Affordable Custom Devices and the Future for Children With Disabilities
Disorders that limit movement, like cerebral palsy, can keep children from participating in many daily activities. For example, it can be difficult for them to write, hold themselves upright in a chair or communicate with others. Custom adaptive devices address these specific problems to improve participation among students with cerebral palsy.
Temple students have created a variety of adaptive devices for children:
- Fitted adaptive chairs to help kids remain upright and engaged in their activities
- A tray to hold video game controllers in place
- Simple height-adjustable leg rests
- A non-slip tray to keep a musical keyboard in place while being played
- An eating tray with hollowed-out areas for bowls and plates
Parents of children with disabilities often have practical ideas for special tools that could improve their child’s quality of life, but no idea how to bring these ideas to life. By working with the dedicated individuals involved in the Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia program, children can get the specific tools they need to enjoy routine and social activities alike.
The end goal is to make school environments more inclusive for all children. Over time, Adaptive Design Greater Philadelphia hopes that further collaborations and partnerships with therapy professionals will allow the program to enrich the lives of many more children.