• Baylor prof’s research could help open a world of mobility for kids with disabilities

    Dr. Kendra Gagnon in a TV interview

    For a child in a wheelchair, the hope of being able to stand and interact with friends and classmates at eye-level is normally out of reach. But a new mobility system, researched by a Baylor professor, is enabling them to do just that.

    Dr. Kendra Gagnon, an associate professor in Baylor’s doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program, has spent countless hours working with students and researching ways to reduce mobility restrictions for children who need wheelchairs or walkers, or who face other disabilities that impact mobility and socialization. Much of her recent research has centered on the benefits of the portable harness system.

    To picture the system, imagine the frame of a tailgate tent, with personal vests attached via bungee cords to poles and hoops at the top. The vest drops down, fitted for the height and weight of each user, enabling each child to move around upright at his or her own pace and ability. The harness supports their body weight, and the attached bungee cords allow them to move forwards, backwards and side to side. For many children, it’s the first time they’ve experienced the feeling of standing up on their own.

    “Children with disabilities don’t often get to experience movement, mobility and socialization on their terms,” Gagnon says. “That’s what is awesome and pretty powerful about it.”

    While many children could use the harness system in a physical therapist’s office or their own home, the broader potential for the portable harnesses was on display last week at a middle school in the Kansas City area.

    Students at Discovery Middle School in Liberty, Missouri, put on a coffee shop before class for their fellow students and teachers. This “Harness School Café” was staffed by students with disabilities who, utilizing the harness system, were able to stand on their own, interact with classmates, and experience a world geared around them. For many of them, that was a first, and their experience garnered the attention of not only every major TV station in Kansas City, but even NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.

    For Gagnon, the café was a meaningful step in a research and professional mission of serving children with mobility challenges. Gagnon, who researches and practices in the Kansas City area, joined Baylor’s DPT program at its opening last year. Baylor DPT students take many classes online, enabling the students and professors, like Gagnon, to continue to work and practice in their home communities. Students meet for intensive lab sessions each semester, in a hybrid-model of learning that allows them to continue to work and complete the program more quickly.

    Sic ’em, Dr. Gagnon, Baylor DPT, and Harness School Café students!