School is out for the summer at Central Connecticut State University, but tech engineering major Connor Spencer isn’t taking a break just yet.
Over the next couple of weeks, Spencer is gearing up to gift electric carts to a few children with disabilities, with the help of middle school and high school students.
His efforts are part of Go Baby Go, a national community-based outreach program to help children with disabilities receive access to independent mobility. Spencer, 21, has been president of Connecticut's Go Baby Go chapter for nearly two years and has built roughly 20 carts.
The program works with volunteers from different schools or other groups to build the electric cars over the course of two days for children who can’t afford adaptive wheelchairs. Children get to take the free carts home and usually use them for an hour a day. Currently, the Connecticut chapter has around 30 members of students who want to learn how to make robotics with a purpose.
“It’s really expensive to get a specialized wheelchair for them [children with disabilities], to the point where it’s not feasible for anyone,” Spencer told Global Citizen. “Having this option is a way that they can bridge the gap and allow the children to move around on their own.”
On the first day of a cart build, Spencer leads the group to modify toy cars, and on the second day, they tailor the design to accommodate the children who will use them.
Specialized wheelchairs to fit children’s specific needs are unaffordable for families across socioeconomic backgrounds. Commercial wheelchairs for children under the age of three can cost $30,000 and are often not covered by health insurance policies. The carts Go Baby Go are much cheaper (about $200 each to make) and are funded completely by donations. Local physical and occupational therapists usually pick the children who get to receive the carts.
Last week, Spencer led a build with volunteers from New Britain High School for two children, Kelicia, 7, and Mosiah, 8, according to CBS. Kelicia was born with Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome, which causes severe developmental delays due to an extra chromosome 18. Doctors told Kelicia’s family she wouldn’t live past a few months. Mosiah is unable to walk on his own.
“A lot of the time it’s the first time a parent has seen them move on their own, but sometimes it’s the first time they’ve seen them smile, so seeing the reaction of the parent is priceless,” Spencer said.
Dr. Cole Galloway, who researches child development in the brain, launched Go Baby Go at the University of Delaware in 2012. Galloway found that children who are active have more brain function, which allowed them to learn faster and adapt to different situations better, Spencer explained. The modified cars can improve children’s cognitive, language, and social development, according to Go Baby Go.
Independent mobility is critical for students with physical disabilities, Thomas Hehir, a disability rights advocate and retired special education professor at Harvard University, told Global Citizen.
“It can change the life trajectory of students radically, to have the ability to independently get around the world,” Hehir said.
“Students who don’t have these are likely to be restricted in terms of what type of work they can do when they leave school, restricted in terms of what kind of community activities they can engage in.”
Technology, like Go Baby Go’s carts, can be essential to the disability community and assist in making educational environments more accessible and inclusive, Hehir explained. Lack of access to technology that provides independent mobility can be detrimental to a child’s life, especially if they are low-income. Often students of color, who are low-income, are segregated in special education classrooms as opposed to included in general education classrooms and have less access to devices that might help them learn. When this happens educators assume students aren’t capable of doing academic work, but they simply don’t have the right tools.
Some schools allow students to bring in Go Baby Go carts, but Spencer hopes to see them integrated into more educational environments to promote inclusivity.
“Having this option is a way that they can bridge the gap and allow the children to move around on their own,” Spencer said.