Personal Play Canopy

Designers: Kelvin Ho, Jenna Olson, Rivai Tan

Client Coordinator: Nancy Hoopingarner,Physical Therapist, Durham Schools

Supervising Professor: Larry Bohs

A play system was developed for a nine-year-old child with severe cognitive and physical disabilities. It consists of a wheelchair canopy with activities that produce sounds when struck, two head-operated levers that strike the activities, and a textured panel on a wheelchair tray. The system promotes mental, physical, and social development of the child through play.

This Personal Play Canopy will allow our client to be engaged both independently and with other children on the playground and in the classroom. The canopy will allow her to spend more time on the playground, since she is sensitive to light. Her physical therapist hopes that the device will help her develop her understanding of cause and effect, as well as her ability to actuate switches using head control.

The Personal Play Canopy (Figure 1) consists of three main components: a headset, a canopy with musical attachments, and wheelchair tray with a touch panel. The headset contains two independent levers, one for each side of the client’s head. An ABS plastic box houses each lever mechanism. Each lever is actuated by pushing on a 4.5″ diameter padded button, which is connected to the lever with a 1/2″ diameter nylon guide rod. Exterior to the housing box, the guide rod extends through a 2″ long 1.77 lbs/in compression spring, which recovers the position of the lever by pushing against the side of the housing box and the surface of the button. A 2.5″ x 1.5″ x 0.5″ Delrin sleeve, attached to the side of the housing box, ensures that the guide rod moves perpendicular to the box wall and in the plane of the lever swing. The lever is 15.7″ long, with 10.7″ protruding from the front end of the housing box through a 3″ x 3/4″ slot that allows the lever to swing.

The lever is made from a commercial drumstick, which is attached to the housing box with a pivot screw near the large end of the lever. The guide rod attaches to the stick with a freely rotating screw, 2.5″ forward of the pivot screw. When the button is pushed, the lever pivots on the pin and moves laterally outward to strike an object. The levers are mounted onto the wheelchair handlebars using a system made from PVC tubing.

The canopy is modified from a commercial wheelchair canopy (WeatherBreaker, Deistco, Chico, CA), which attaches to two aluminum tubes fastened vertically onto the wheelchair frame. Eyebolts are attached at intervals along the upper canopy frame, through grommets in the canopy fabric. Musical activities are attached to the eyebolts using lengths of nylon rope with plastic hooks on either end.

The 16″ x 12″ wheelchair tray is constructed from clear Plexiglas, with rounded edges and a semicircular cutout to accommodate the user’s body. The tray is attached to two hollow red PVC pipes, which slide over the wheelchair armrests for easy mounting.

The textured panel consists of a variety of soft textures glued onto a felt-lined 12″ x 12″ plywood square covered with white felt. A lazy susan bearing is attached to the bottom of the plywood square, allowing the textured panel to rotate while on the tray. Non-slip Dycem pads are attached to the base of the textured panel to prevent it from sliding on the tray surface. Figure 2 shows the client using the device. Cost of parts was $520.

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