Sharina Jones, 35, has been in a wheelchair since she was five years old. She was shot by another child and paralyzed, but that doesn’t slow her down. She founded a non-profit organization, Think Beyond the Chair, that delivers wheelchairs to children in third world countries. She also writes a motivating blog called Push Goddess.
But, when Jones and her husband, Grover Jones III, discovered they were expecting their first child last year, she realized she was the one who needed some help. What she really desired for herself and her baby was a wheelchair-friendly stroller.
“I was thinking ahead, because you always have to think ahead. After that first doctor’s appointment, we started asking, ‘How are we going to do this? And this? And this?'” said Jones.
Naturally, she wanted the freedom to take her baby on walks, or detach her stroller from her wheelchair and pull up to a restaurant table.
Jones heard about a partnership between the University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy where high school students are given college-level STEM research projects. Some of the projects use engineering to help meet the needs of disabled people, so Jones gave the program head, Dr. Darrell Kleinke, a call.
Alden Kane, 16, was the high school senior in the program tasked with creating a wheelchair stroller and baby carrier for Jones.
Kane worked for hours after school every day for six months to design the stroller, from drawing plans and making prototypes to testing out materials. 15 potential designs were narrowed down to one ideal concept through Kane’s trial-and-error and with feedback from Kleinke and Jones.
The end result was made from stainless steel piping with connectors (donated by material company Creform), and it was ready just in time. Jones son, Grover IV, was able to take his first stroll when he was around 2 weeks old.
“It’s not so much a stroller where you’d want to use it independently,” Kane said of his invention. “It’s designed specifically to attach to a wheelchair. In a sense, it is a stroller, but instead of a person pushing it, a wheelchair pushes it.”
Jones says the stroller has given her the freedom she desired, allowing her to shop at the mall, use public restrooms and of course, go on walks with her now 10-week-old son like any other mom. Most importantly, she is able to go about her daily activities with peace of mind, knowing her baby is safe and secure.
“I love it. It makes everything so much easier,” Jones said.
She can’t thank Kane enough for his hard work.
“I just love him,” Jones added. “He’s a great kid. He is going to be an amazing engineer.”
“It was extremely exciting and rewarding to see Sharina using it,” Kane said. “Throughout the project, being the only person working on this, I was always wondering if I was going to have it done by the time her child came along … but meeting the due date and having a great working design was just an extremely rewarding sight.”
The instructor for Kane’s high school STEM research course, Dominic Coccitti-Smith, said the partnership with the University of Detroit Mercy has been a wonderful opportunity for his students.
“Alden’s passion for his quest for innovation and improving the lives of our community members came together through this project,” Coccitti-Smith said. “As the instructor for this course, I have great confidence in the future through seeing these wonderful projects that high school students are completing.”
Kane plans to study biomedical engineering or aerospace in college next year. He also hopes to patent his wheelchair stroller design and pursue mass production by a major stroller or wheelchair company.
“That’s really the end goal here,” he said. “It’s great to have served Mrs. Jones — as one person, it’s had a great impact on her life. But imagine the impact that it could have on hundreds or thousands of lives.”
Jones and her husband are enjoying being new parents. She said she also hopes to see the stroller design become available for more wheelchair-using moms.
“I’m very thankful for everything that I have, and getting the opportunity to have something like this new stroller,” Jones said. “I’m just very excited about it.”