Eighth-graders Design Wheelchairs For Disabled Kitten

A group of eighth-graders at the Portsmouth Middle School in New Hampshire designed a wheelchair for a disabled Maine Coon kitten named Ray. He is six months old and was born with abnormally small and nonfunctional eyes. He also has a spinal problem so he can’t use his hind legs.

Ray belongs to Carrie Barron, who adopted him from the Odd Cat Sanctuary in Salem, Massachusetts. Barron describes Ray as a cheerful and sweet kitten who loves to play and seems unaware of his own disabilities. She reports that his hind legs do have feeling, so he is not truly paralyzed; he simply can’t move them properly. Ray gets around by scooting around the house.

Barron’s neighbor, Erin Bakkom, fell in love with Ray when she saw him. She is also a teacher at Portsmouth Middle School and asked Michaela Pugh, the emerging technology assistant at the public library, if her class could use the 3D printer to make a wheelchair for Ray.

The class had already designed two possible chairs for Ray. When Barron brought Ray to school, the technology integrator, Brian Stewart, helped the students refine their designs and get Ray’s measurements. The students printed out two wheelchairs: a two-wheeled model and a four-wheeled model. Ray has already outgrown the two-wheeler, which should not be a surprise. Maine Coons are generally considered to be the largest of all cat breeds, and an adult male can weigh over 20 pounds. They also don’t reach their full size until they are at least three years old. Ray will therefore probably go through a lot of wheelchairs during his life.

Unfortunately, Ray did not like the four-wheeled chair and broke it while escaping. Pugh was philosophical and assured the students that such mishaps were all part of the design process. Bakkom noted that her students had learned a lot about 3D printing during the project. She hopes to convince the school to get grants towards a 3D printer now that she has seen their potential herself.