Saturday, March 14, 2015

Adventures in Assistive Technology: Adapting the Power Wheels

I had been dying to do this project for over a year, since I had first heard about the Go Baby Go through the University of Delaware.  It was an AH HA moment.  I could totally do that. Adapting a powered toy car so my kiddos could have access to play with their peers as well as build other skills such as switch use, or head and trunk strength, or language, upper extremity strength... you name it, I could justify it.  It is my magic, as an OT, ya know to justify ANYTHING!
So a few weeks ago I finally resparked the flame of innovation and started asking for donations of used power toys.  And to my joy, my nieces and nephews donated their John Deer truck because they weren't using it anymore and they wanted to help my kids.  There I was, John Deer in hand. Now to get the rest of the supplies.
Ratcheting PVC cutter
Cuts through pipe like buttah'

Switch. Check.  (
PVC piping. Check.  (local neighborhood hardware store)
Nuts and Bolts. Check.  (local neighborhood hardware store)
Kill Switch. Check.  (
A husband to help me rewire. Check.

Once my Mr. Fix-It helped to rewire and solder the gas pedal to the switch, I got my Ratcheting PVC cutters out.  These are a necessary tool if you work with PVC.  Worth every penny.  I also got to steal Mr. Fix-Its Dremel tool and new Milwaukee Power Drill to perforate the holes in the piping and the truck to install the support frame.

Finishing touches included good ole pipe insulation,  duct tape to provide a softer support to the bracing, and industrial Velcro for a lap belt and shoulder support.  And voila, Pimp My Ride: John Deer Power Wheels edition was complete.

My son testing it out
When I envisioned the outcome, I primarily had my students with significant physical disabilities in mind, but the benefits of the project spread beyond that group.  Students with autism found it quite intriguing and motivating.  Those that were non-verbal, vocalized and expressed words such as "Cool!" "Go!" "4 by 4" and "Deer".  It gave others a chance for parallel play and structured communicative play by incorporating voice out put switches with phrases like "Do you want to go for a ride with me?" and "GO!"  Driving also encouraged bilateral hand use and intrinsic hand strengthening, as the children have to use push the switch while holding the steering wheel as they drive.  For my more involved students, I steer while they activate the switch.

Though not 100% complete, I still need to set a secondary switch for a right cheek activation site, this project is well on its way to fulfilling its purpose: increasing participation amongst children with multiple disabilities during free time play.  I actually wish that I had considered completing a research study on its effects on social participation.  Maybe next year....

Overall, I would consider this an advanced project due to the nature of adaptation and tools needed.  If I didn't have my husband's support, I don't think it would have made it out of my basement.  Also, there are a significant amount of obstacles.  First, logistics.  The size of the vehicle is big.  It's a two-seater.  And even though we removed the dump bed from the truck, it is still large to store (ask my co workers).  So if you are considering doing a project like this, you need to examine your storage capacity.  You also have to respect administration for your building.  I am lucky to work with educators and facility managers that don't mind my therapeutic antics.  Second, cost.  Though the power wheels was donated, I purchased most of the materials.  PVC is cheap; foam insulation is cheap; switches can be costly.  I completed this for under $50 but I had a lot of materials and tools already.  Third, overall understanding of positioning and access sites.  Position of the body is key to accessing life, including switches.  If a child is not supported appropriately and safely, the participation in motorized play will not be successful.

Sea Choice Universal Kill Switch
Available through
So if you are interested in researching a project like this, check out Cole Galloway and his team at the University of Delaware.  I downloaded their instructions, and then modified it to fit my needs.  For example, the kill switch they used is a single throw switch; my Mr. Fix It recommended the coil based like ones used on boats. Since it attaches to me while the children are driving, I don't have to worry about them driving off.  Go Baby Go project developers recently published new directions which are clearer and more organized.  And if you want to help me make another adapted car, you can visit my Donor's Choose site.

Special Thanks to Maddie and Patrick for donating their toy! Without it, my students would not be having nearly as much fun!


  1. SUPER COOL!!!! I am impressed. I keep seeing all the GoBabyGo projects and they are great. Always nice to read a first hand account of how hard a project really is. Great job!

  2. Thanks! Besides the (major) part of re-wiring, it was a lot of fun problem solving my way through the project!