CHANDLER, Ariz. - Power Wheels cars have been synonymous with childhood for years.
Whether you went with a pink Barbie Jeep or a shiny, red Corvette, those electric toy cars provided countless hours of fun for boys and girls across the globe.
But for some children with disabilities, the idea of driving or sitting in one of the Fisher Price toys was more dream than reality.
That is, until the nonprofit Believe Beyond Ability came up with a truly unique and special event Saturday at Seton High School in Chandler.
The "Roller Derby 2017" event is the brain child of Occupational Therapist Melanie Conatser and Speech Therapist Brenda Del Monte and gives Valley kids with disabilities a chance to have some fun with customized Power Wheels cars.
“We call it a derby because it’s kind of ugly and they all crash into each other,” said Conatser. “But they have fun and it’s a great time.”
Conatser also said one of her favorite parts of the event is seeing the children interact with family and friends.
“Nobody cares if you’re making the car go with your head, or your hands or your foot,” she said. “They’re all playing together and having fun."
All of the cars are modified to be accessible for the participants. The modifications are made to meet the specific needs of each child.
From adaptive seats to modified steering wheels, the toy cars are customized to ensure each kid is able to use the cars effectively.
"Sometimes the kids we work with don't have any toys to play with," said Del Monte. "So this event is designed to give kids access to toys and equipment that they wouldn't otherwise be able to access."
And if the mods require additional electronic work, students from the Seton High Robotics Team volunteered their expertise to the event.
Students from the school robotics team work with Conatser and Del Monte to create additional modifications that require an engineering touch, such as customized motors and remote controls.
Callan Gillette and Phillip Warren are a couple of the alums of Seton High and the robotics team that have volunteered in the derby for years.
"I really enjoy building these things and watching the kids roll around," said Warren. "These activities are a great thing to be a part of."
Another interesting part of the mods is Gillette's mobile app, "RC Power Wheels," that allows users to drive the Power Wheels cars remotely from an Android phone.
This is perfect for parents with children who don't have the ability to steer on their own, but are able to sit in the car.
"We have the technical know-how to create the modifications needed for these cars and we are happy to help," said Gillette. "It's great to be able to use our skills to help others."
But before you go download the app to drive your own toy car, the app only works with cars modded for the event.
Conatser and Del Monte have hosted the event for four years now and they'll continue to keep hosting it as long as they can.
With the number of smiles on the faces of the kids and parents, let's hope the Roller Derby continues for years to come.
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