For some time, gait trainers have brought a level of mobility to lives of children with disabilities. They enable standing and walking-based mobility, which lets children feel more normal and improves their interaction with other kids.
A new innovation on this technology, called KidWalk, has recently come to market, and this new device improves mobility even more for kids with disabilities like spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy.
For many kids, these disabilities result in confinement to strollers or wheelchairs, and this can cause muscles and joints, particularly at the hips and knees, to atrophy and become unusable. Gait trainers, and KidWalk in particular, help to ensure this doesn’t happen and can even, in some cases, strengthen the child’s ability to walk.
The system was designed by Rick Escobar through a Department of Education grant written by his partner, Christine Wright-Ott of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford. The development took five years, with another two years of time required to actually get from prototype to market. The grant only covered the first three years of development. After that, Escobar says, “We worked on it ourselves out of our garages.”
The project is close to home for Escobar, who has spent 20 years working on adaptive technologies to help people with disabilities. He has spent this time in various sectors of the industry, including working at a Shriner’s Hospital for children, an Agribility program for injured farm workers, Utah State University, and Stanford, where the KidWalk platform was developed.
“Just seeing the kids is what intrigues me,” Escobar says. “Watching the parents see their kids moving on their own for the first time is really a great feeling.”
The product development came after testing all of the gait walkers on the market with between 125 and 150 kids. Says Escobar, “We figured out what worked well and what didn’t.”
Features that specifically set the KidWalk system apart from others include oversize wheels which help with greater mobility and maneuverability, as well as a pivoting seat which shifts balance and weight. The system can be adapted to meet each user’s needs and includes an array of optional equipment such as specialty seats, bicycle attachments, and basic things like padding and head rests. Escobar and Wright-Ott are constantly experimenting, testing, and developing new and improved versions of the chair. The goal is to make sure that children are not confined to a wheelchair at a young age.
“This lets kids be upright and mobile, with self-initiated movement,” Escobar says. “Once they are upright, it helps with their digestive system, their breathing, and their circulation.”
Though Escobar and Wright-Ott hold a patent on the system, which has sold over 5,000 units worldwide, they are not shy about sharing their discoveries with other gait trainer companies. “We did a lot of testing,” he says, “and if we found a way to improve, we shared it with them. Four others upgraded their projects.”
Escobar also actively works with therapists and families to customize the system for clients. “I work with kids 13 months old all the way through high school, and we have an adult-sized model coming out,” he explained.
“It is fun to watch the interactions with these kids,” he says. “They just want to do this on their own. They want to be kids.” Take a look at kids being kids with the KidWalk and tell us what you think!