Movement is the language children speak fluently before they
are able to form words. When a toddler is excited, they run
and jump. When they're upset, they kick and roll. Motion is
how they communicate and interact with the world around them.
So what about children with physical disabilities, who cannot
independently run, jump or kick? They spend the most
important years of their developmental life silent, passive,
relying on others to determine what they want to say; where
they want to go.
Students and faculty at Marymount University in Arlington are
breaking them out of that passivity, putting them in the
driver's seat and sending them out on the open road of play
and possibilities with GoBabyGo.
GoBabyGo was developed in 2006 by Cole Galloway, a pediatric
researcher at the University of Delaware, along with Sunil
Agrawal, a mechanical engineering professor. The idea takes
motorized toy cars that can be bought for about $100, rewires
them, retrofits them with simple materials like PVC pipe and
pool noodles and turns them into modified therapy and
mobility devices for children with disabilities.
The result is a fun form of physical therapy that enables the
child to move with their own agency while improving their
balance and muscle function. The concept is revolutionary in
that it acts as a tool for immediate functional assistance,
like a wheelchair, while simultaneously working as a
rehabilitative practice. The cars are modified to fit each
individual child's needs with minor mechanical changes such
as tightening the turn radius of the car, and moving the
power button to an accessible place. They can be configured
to be driven sitting down, standing up or as a motorized
The benefits of GoBabyGo are more than physical. In a TedTalk
Galloway gave last year about the program, he explained that
in the United States, children with mobility issues have to
wait until age 5 to receive a pediatric power chair, leaving
them to live through "five years of passive existence."
Galloway said this passiveness is detrimental to the
development of a child, because it deprives them of the
independence to make decisions of when and where to move - an
important function that fully mobile individuals may take for
"Active independent mobility changes our view of the world,"
Galloway said. "We use our bodies to signify our identity in
the world every day."
Amy O'Malley, pediatric physical therapist at Good Beginnings
in Falls Church, said GoBabyGo bridges an important gap in
accessibility through not only getting children moving at an
earlier age, but also at a much lower cost. "For less than
$500 you can give a kid this car, while an average wheelchair
costs between $5,000 and $13,000."
O'Malley said the modified cars also offer a sense of
normalcy to children who feel constantly reminded of their
disability. "That's the hard part for people with
disabilities - everything you have is very special, very
medical-looking," she said. "So instead of a special
wheelchair, we have a 'Frozen' car with a harness as support.
But it looks like a 'Frozen' car - that's what you see first.
So if you want to drive it to the park, you'll look like
every other kid."
Jason Craig, physical therapy professor at Marymount, said he
remembers walking into his colleague's office and seeing the
toy car for the first time and thinking, "Really? What are
you doing now?" That was two years ago, and since then, he
said he has taken every opportunity to promote and highlight
the program internally at the university. After seeing the
cars, many people have reached out wanting to help with
building, including a librarian and a physics professor with
a 3-D printer.
Skye Donovan, chairwoman of the physical therapy department,
said GoBabyGo "has had a tremendous impact within a small
community at the university with elevating our call to
The program is a collaborative effort among students, faculty
and pediatric physical therapists in the area. Craig said the
cars are built in a research-room-turned-"GoBabyGo garage,"
equipped with peg boards, tools and spare parts.
The university has the man power internally to build as many
cars as they have a demand for, but they need outside help
with funding. They are holding a community kick-off event
called "GoBabyGo Build and Grow" Sept. 17 at Marymount's
Ballston campus, which O'Malley said will be a "festival-like
event" to spread awareness of the program and widen community
support around children who would benefit from the cars.
O'Malley said the event will aim to teach people how to build
the cars, familiarize physicians with the program so they can
refer children in need, and gain the backing of lawmakers,
schools and businesses to make the cars more accessible to
The event will feature a mass car-build, keynote
presentation, parent forum, and food, games and prizes for
the entire family.
Craig said corporate investment would make a huge impact on
the program's reach. "A small investment from a company -
what executives spend on lunch with a client - can change the
lives of thousands," he said.
O'Malley hopes this event will lay the infrastructure for
GoBabyGo to become a widespread, ongoing community project.
"We want to establish roots, so that every year we grow our
population of kids that get cars, we grow the number of
people who can make cars, we grow the number of corporations
who say this is a really valid opportunity to get involved
with their local community," O'Malley said. "So if we start
in Northern Virginia, then maybe D.C. can have a hub, and if
every little charitable civic group just did one car a year,
we'd hopefully get to our eventual goal, which is one car for
Husar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch Cole Galloway's TedTalk.