By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A day that began with Ford Motor Co. volunteers strategizing how to customize electric vehicles for children in wheelchairs ended with seeing the fruits of their labor.
Beaumont Center for Exceptional Families patient Wyatt Beard, 2, was given his electric Ford F-150 vehicle on the afternoon of Sept. 15 allowing him to move around like a wheelchair would.
When he was first placed in the vehicle by physical therapist Stacy Dewald, he was unsure what to do until he was guided to press the red button which replaced a pedal on the vehicle.
The group of Ford volunteers started their planning at 8 a.m. that morning with how they would make the vehicles friendly for patients in wheelchairs. They worked on assembling seven vehicles in which two would remain at the center and five would be given to patients to take home.
“We split the process into stations for building on a prototype to determine the best way to customize the vehicles,” said Michael Filipovich, Ford Product Development Unibody Engineering Lead. “The adjustments we had to make to the electric vehicles were changing the electrical wiring, remote on and off switch and support cage to allow children to sit up.”
Filipovich listed specific customization necessary for the vehicles including adding a red button that replaces a pedal switch to move the vehicle around, added foam for support, kick boards, a harness for the seat belt, extra padding in the seating area and a safety toggle for parents.
“This is a special project where the experience is fun for us because we are able to see the smile on a child’s face,” Filipovich said. “It’s fantastic.”
Wyatt’s mother, Erin Beard, said she was excited when she received the news about the electric vehicle. Physical therapists referred their patients for a vehicle to allow for more mobility, development and freedom to move around.
“The vehicle is a great way for my son to experience his environment,” she said. “It’s important for him to interact and be able to get to things.”
Beard also said the extra support in the vehicle allows Wyatt to build his core strength and aid in sitting up straight.”
Beaumont Center for Exceptional Families Assistant Director Michelle O’Connor-Teklinski said the center applied for the Ford Motor Co. grant in July and learned it was one of the organizations selected at the end of August.
The $3,000 project resources and Ford volunteers were provided through the grant which O’Connor-Teklinski said she heard of because of the national GoBabyGo! program.
“We were excited when we were selected for the grant because the center has had a great time working with Ford,” she said. “The electric vehicles allow children to show an understanding of a power motored vehicle before an insurance company will approve a power wheelchair.”
For more information on the GoBabyGo! program go to www.sites.udel.edu/gobabygo.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)