Category Archives: The ‘mod’ squad

making the world more ALLsome

You might remember me mentioning that the “Handball Machine” was the catalyst for those “Macifications” (mods to Mac’s wheelchair) his classmates worked on last year?

The kids (Mac included) just decided one day Mac needed a way to play handball.  Their idea was to have something mounted at the front of Mac’s jogger to allow him to “play” without getting hurt.

For days, I would turn up at school with them telling me what they had tried, asking me to bring in more items to test, giving me the results on their experimentation.

Some of the failures included:

  • bin lids (too hard to mount and metal)
  • tennis racquets (too much chance Mac could get hit if they didn’t aim well enough)
  • plastic container lids (too flimsy)
  • various wheelchair trays (too big, too little, absorbed the bounce of the handball too much)

Until …

Someone came up with the excellent idea of a Crazy Catch (a ball sport reflex/catching trainer).  I was dispatched immediately to purchase one for the ongoing experiment (cost … inconsequential ;-) according to the kids)

The feedback following their ‘first trial run’ was that they felt a customised size was necessary.  Followed up by a simple “could I make that for them” (hooray for hacksaws).  A couple of cheap golf buggy umbrella holders to help hold the Crazy Catch arms in place and the odd piece of velcro was all it took to make their invention a reality.

This year their “hack” has moved onto the football field.  The net angle gets reduced a little, Flag Football tags (AusTag here in Oz) are attached on the side of the jogger to allow Mac to be ‘tackled’.  Their next planned mod includes a pouch on the front of the net to allow the ball to be passed (with a degree of skill including reverse spin or perfect placement) to allow it to roll into the pouch.

I love watching these ideas come to fruition and then evolve.

Mac loves being in the midst of it all and considers himself “quite good at handball”.  Although i’m not sure the speed and chaos of the football field won’t win him over.  Time will tell.

It is very ALLsome.



So, it's not that cool when you can't play handball with your mates.  But with mates like Mac's it's 'way cool'. At our school the kids invent mac-ifications.  That is, modifications to Mac's wheelchair so they can all do more things.  Like this handball machine.  All they needed was a bike jogger, a Crazy Catch, two umbrella holders and some velcro.  (video footage of the kids playing with the ball bouncing off the front net).  Pretty awesome don't you think?    Just goes to show... when ALL means ALL, we make the world more ALLsome.

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Filed under Access all Areas, friends, Inclusion... straight up!, The 'mod' squad, things that make me go "glll"

eggs on legs

The Easter Hat Parade takes on a different form at our school.  For K-2 they work on your stereotypical “Easter bonnets” for the Hat Parade.   The big kids (Grades 5-6) do Egg Diorama’s called “Egg-o-ramas” (usually with a specific theme) and are, literally, something to behold.

When you are in Grades 3 & 4 you produce “Eggs on Legs”.  Generally, poster sized egg characters in many different guises that you get to carry around the parade circuit.  This year there was a huge variety including Darth ‘Vad-egg’, Spongebob Square Egg, Princess Eggs, Bunny Eggs, Dinosaurs breaking out of their Eggs,  the Jimi Hendrix “Eggs-perience”, Storm Troop-eggs, Harry Pott-eggs and so many more.

So, what to do when you’re a ‘wheelie’ who can’t carry their own ‘egg on legs’?

Isn’t it obvious…

You turn your entire wheelchair into an “Egg on Legs”!

The kids were very excited to see those legs walking on his wheels.  His classmate “J” took on the role of ‘egg pusher’ in an instant.

As I packed the eggs away in the wardrobe I thought “at least we’re done for next year ;-) “… although we may just get the kids to help us ‘tart up’ the old eggy so he at least seems ‘current’ in 2013.

And while is certainly good fun making stuff like this (and not terribly difficult) it does allow for some incidental learning for the kids.  Today they got a little insight into animation, how to ‘pimp a wheelchair’, and how to easily create funny characters with carboard, bit of timber, a glue stick, paper and thick black texta.  The whole activity gives them a great chance to explore character modifications/tweaks and start to really take in the whole idea of a ‘play on words’.  It really is a fun activity.


Filed under Access all Areas, Inclusion... straight up!, The 'mod' squad

Would you, could you, lend a hand?

I am not one to ask for help very often – learning how has been on my to-do list for sometime.

But, this is one thing I don’t want to ‘hog’ – this is something I am sure some of you might want to share in, help be part of the solution, part of the excitement, part of the fun.

Long time readers know of my plans, desires, dreams for a SMART wheelchair (robotic) that is affordable, light weight and, well, smart.

You can read about it here in my “I have a dream…” post.

They will also remember that the brilliant mind of Daniele Benedettelli is on the job, over in Italy.

Danny is starting to ‘ramp’ things up a little and so has put the call out for some donations to kick start the project.

The initial equipment purchase is USD$400 and Paypal donation option is available on the project site.


If anyone can spare a penny, a pound, a dime or a dollar it would be fantastic to get this project “rolling” (I could have said “off the ground” but  since no one is offering me a ‘hovercraft wheelchair’… rolling it is).

If anyone has any contacts or ideas for getting some ‘bigger’ sponsorship behind this project then please, feel free to contact Danny via his site or myself directly.





While we know Mac would benefit from this type of chair it is pretty obvious he isn’t the only one.  In fact, a good friend who is a wonderful teacher in our local area said she would love something like this. She doesn’t have a physical disability but she is blind, and there are times she would like to be able to get from A to B on her own, while having a conversation (or daydream) and not having to put all her attention into concentrating on safe passage with her cane.

Thanks for listening


Filed under Access all Areas, The 'mod' squad, the big picture

windscreen wheels

After Mac’s “shoe wheels” last week his wheelchair wheels spent a day and a half ”naked” – it just didn’t seem right.

So we went in search of a replacement design – no fixed ideas in mind, just keen to see where the hunt would take us.

As it turned out we ended up at an Auto Shop and picked up one of those folding windscreen shades.

They cut up really easily, have heaps of cool patterns to choose from, are waterproof and really, really quick to install.

At only $9 they are pretty cheap too (considering how much time they save).

Mac chose the design – he said he would LOVE the wave and cabin design on his chair.  It is a pretty cool surfer design – his mates particularly like the “wave side”.

Now I have one more thing to keep an eye out for – just in case there is a fabulous design we “need”.

This design reminds me of my Uncles who were teenagers in the 70s and had fancy wheels on their Volkswagen Beetles and Combi vans.


Filed under The 'mod' squad

Shumann the Shoeman

This year saw Shumann the Shoeman by John and Stella Danalis as our book in focus for Book Week 2010.

Today was a fun day with both the ‘live show’ of Shumann and celebrations in the form of “Crazy Shoe Day” (a kind of mufti for your feet day).  A ‘grand’ shoe parade started the day off and was lots of fun.

Mac and I were torn as to what he should do… crazy shoes potentially interfere with his communication (being a foot switcher) and short of buying something – he really didn’t own anything super ‘crazy’ that happened to be the right size.

So we decided to go with “Crazy Shoe Wheels”

Mac was happy, the kids were impressed.  His wheels were reminiscent of a caterpillar wearing shoes (with eight pairs on there he wasn’t too far off the mark).

I still haven’t managed to read Shumann the Shoeman so can’t offer you a review.

Who knows, Mac might decide to borrow it from the library one week so we can both share in the story.


Filed under Access all Areas, Accessing the Curriculum, first grade here I come, The 'mod' squad

same same but different…

To borrow a ‘tinglish‘ phrase…

Mac and Shawn were out and about on the weekend just having a “Dad’n Lad day”.  So often is is either just Mac and I or all three of us so it is nice for them to just hang out on their own.

Shawn experienced one of those moments many parents of children with a disability often dread.  You know the one, when another child stops dead in their tracks, stares and points.

He said his initial feeling was a slightly uneasy ‘hmmm, OK then, how’s this going to go down?”

The little boy, now standing straddled over his own push bike, waited for his Dad to catch up to him, turned to him, pointing first to himself, then to Mac and declared…

“Look, same… Ben 10 bike… Ben 10 wheelchair”

That’s it.

Same same!


Filed under The 'mod' squad

wheelchair wheel covers 101

Bron at Big Brother, Little Sister asked how we go about making the wheelchair covers.

Here’s the quick method we use for easy changing of designs.


Mac has plastic covers over his spokes which you can remove by taking off the quick release wheels, then the push rims (screws on the inside of the wheels).  It is a little bit fiddly, but I don’t do this job daily so it is OK.

The work is not top quality – they are usually for quick celebrations, instant gratification.  They don’t need to last a long time.  They literally ‘sit on’ the plastic cover – we rarely use anything else to attach them unless it is a heavy design.

If you don’t have wheelcovers you could revert to the old way we used to decorate bikes with crepe paper woven through the spokes or make some laminated pics you can tie on to the spokes with cable ties or twist ties.


Filed under The 'mod' squad

Ben 10


Ben 10 wheels as requested by the ‘bossy’ speller…


  • 3 x Ben 10 party hats opened out and pasted around the wheel.
  • 1 x large Ben 10 sticker
  • 5 x small Ben 10 stickers
  • clear contact to cover
  • green cardboard as base template


Filed under The 'mod' squad

i have a dream…

Well I have this dream for some years now.  It’s not that I haven’t done anything about it, it’s just that there is a limit to my skills and knowledge and an even more finite limit to my finances.

Some years ago I trawled the internet studying all the LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robotic Technology geniuses to see who I felt was the best in the world.

My intention… to see if by combining LEGO Robotic Technology with lightweight electric cars we could develop light weight, affordable and safe mobility devices which could not only ‘follow lines’ and ‘avoid obstacles’ they could localize themselves in known environments providing safe passage for users like Mac who have significant vision and mobility issues to contend with.

I tracked down Daniele Benedetelli, an Italian Automation Engineering Masters Graduate who is, not only a robotics legend, but also a musical genius… therein solving my personal shortcomings as I don’t believe Danny has a limit to his skills and knowledge.

He was enthusiastic about the project and despite neither of us having any money to ‘pursue it full time’ we have been collaborating (time permitting) ever since.

Here is an application Danny has submitted for our project to Campus Party Europe, hoping to gain the support needed for development.

It is nice to have a shared vision of lightweight, affordable, smart wheelchairs for EVERYONE with someone who doesn’t even come from the disability sector.

I abhor the idea all the therapists and medicos involved in the lives of our children believe ‘learned immobility’ is acceptable.  I resent all these organisations who receive money because OUR children have disabilities think it is OK to compromise their lives.

I will keep chasing this dream because one day this might mean at the very least:


  • Mac can move himself around/between classrooms – further reducing the need for ‘teachers aide/personal attendant’ support.
  • Mac can transport himself around the school either by following specific coloured lines, algorithmically mapped safe passage or ‘free wheeling’ with obstacle avoidance.
  • Mac can deliver message to the office, collect items required by the teacher or run errands just as the other students do.
  • Mac can go where he wants and be with who ever he choses during break time.


  • I can ‘call Mac for dinner’  and he can come (or not) of his own volition,
  • I can send Mac out to round up the chooks to put them to bed for the night, feed the dog or close the gate.
  • Mac can leave and enter any room in the house whenever he wants to.
  • Mac could decide to ‘pop’ up the hill to visit his Grandparents or his cousins… all by himself.
  • Mac would have independent mobility that is inexpensive and really “smart”.

It is certainly worth the challenge – for all kids, not just Mac.


Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, The 'mod' squad


As promised for those interested here is a copy of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet I made for Mac to use at school.

Message me in the comments if you would like to receive copy of the MS Excel template (include your email address) or send me an email at sandgburns [at] bigpond [dot] com with morseSPELL in the subject line.

If you are planning on actually using it for learning then a couple of external options will make this much more user friendly for you.

1.  Download the full set of .wav files for each letter and number of morse code from: Morse Code Letter & Numbers

2. Trial or purchase the software: Sounding Keyboard and Mouse from (This allows you to assign any sound to any keyboard or mouse function – see the instructions tab within the file for more details).

So far so good with this program – I was thrilled when I found the Sounding Keyboard software – that made life much easier (and probably saved me from learning a whole lot of computer coding that would only make my head hurt).

I can/will assign a third switch to the TAB so that either Mac or the assistant can use a switch rather than pressing the TAB key.  This is just a matter of plugging another switch into the CRICK USB interface.

Mac’s cousins played with the morseSPELL for over an hour tonight – so it can’t be too boring.

It was a funny situation to observe in the lounge room tonight where the kids went from playing the Wii to sitting down and “playing” Morse Code.  Interestingly Mac’s Pa had a “real” Morse Code machine in the shed – it’s one he is fixing for someone – so that was out too.  Talk about ‘centuries colliding’.

I will add a morseNUMBERS in eventually as well as a morseCONTROL for learning computer controls – but for now, I am happy with morseSPELL which means when the children do LIPI in class (Literacy Skills Program) Mac will have congruency while he too perfects his letters etc.

And just to make me feel like I am on the right track here’s an excerpt from Gaylon Ponder and Ricardo Ortega (AAC Consultants from Words +, Inc) who presented at the CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference 2004.

Two-Switch Morse Code

In order to make a letter in Morse Code the client must learn the code. It is unbelievably easy. For instance, an “e” is one switch hit, so is a “t”. Morse Code is nothing more than a different way of writing a letter. In Two-Switch Morse Code one switch sends dots, and the other sends dashes. In order to make an “e” you have to hit the dot switch one time – pretty easy compared to what we had to do to learn to print an “e” with a pencil. A “t” is the dash switch one time. Two dot switch hits is an “i” every time. Three dot switches yields an “s” every time. We learned 26 complicated ways of making letters on paper when we were little kids. In Morse Code we ask the client to learn 26 simple ways of making letters, and provide an easy way for them to do it. The access is direct select without the fine motor and visual load. The client does not need to watch the scanner, or the keyboard. They have to hit switches in the correct sequence within a certain time frame, but not at a specific time.


Filed under Accessing the Curriculum, Technology - things that help, The 'mod' squad

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Macco!

A wheelchair drawn by reindeer in the hot, Australian summer… of course!

The exhibitionist child of ours shows just how proud he is as he arrives at school dressed for the Christmas festivities that day.  Apparently he LOVES having reindeer on his chair and he LOVES having lights on there too.

Mac is very proud to show off his Christmas wheelchair to friendsAnd how do you pull your look together…

the breakdown of items to “pimp my ride, Christmas style”

  • Two singing reindeer (hobby horse style)  bolted to the front of the chair.  When you press their antlers they sing and their nose flashes – I am sure the teachers were thrilled.
  • Coloured christmas lights for each wheel $2.99 per set.  These run on 2 x AA batteries and are easy to wrap around the wheel rims when you don’t need to self propel.
  • Santa Clause wheel covers made from one of those extra large gift bags purchased for $2 from one of the discount stores
  • Tinsel trim to ‘up the fancy’ on the wheel rims.
  • “model’s own Santa hat” :-)
  • Oh, and there were some ‘elf style spats’ on his shoes made from the sleeves of an old green t-shirt and cut with jagged ends.

Then to be sure you completely disrupt the class for the entire day you take in your very large sound activated singing polar bear who channels Elvis with a bit of Tom Jones style dancing thrown in.  As it was an entire school “Doing Things Together Day” the bear was a huge hit with all the students as they rotated through his activity task area.

The chair will remain “pimped for Christmas” at Mac’s insistence.  He really is quite terrible, he just laps up the attention he gets everywhere he goes.


Filed under Access all Areas, The 'mod' squad, things that make me go "glll"

touch tablet

Here’s a good introductory video by “leopardsoup” on YouTube reviewing the ‘just released’ Wacom Bamboo Touch (touch tablet).

This would be a great little option to combine with a head switch (or switches in general) for Mac and others with physical impairments.  

I think it is selling for about $70USD.  I can see great potential for adding it to the computer driving the electronic whiteboard at school and allowing Mac to have some opportunity to move the mouse curser to where he wants without relying on the mouse.  I am assuming it won’t get ‘hot’ like the tablet computer does so could even sit on/near his lap and would allow for the computer screen to be placed in an optimal position (which varies depending on the day with Mac).

Another example of ‘access on main street’ – we love accessible products under $100.  I wonder if something like this could eventually be wireless?

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Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, The 'mod' squad

the laptop lad

We are starting to push for more computer activities in the classroom.  It has been a staged introduction of technology from my end.  I know, for those who ‘don’t eat it up’, technology is quite overwhelming.   By approaching it in a gradual fashion I am hoping more sticks, more is used and understood.

I am just starting to get Mac’s laptop organised for school.

  • 66 Microsoft Updates were uploaded yesterday (oops)
  • Service Pack 2 installed (another oops)
  • iTunes loaded (needed SP2) and Hooked on Phonics podcasts downloaded
  • SwitchSkills 1 loaded in preparation for some switching activity
  • ChooseItMaker2 ordered and awaiting delivery

The computer we are using for Mac is a Fujitsu Lifebook P series tablet computer.  It has an 8.9″ display which is a touchscreen (finger or stylus) and can be connected to bigger screens (and Smartboards) if we want.  It weighs less than 1kg and currently runs XP Tablet Edition software.

my laptopMac has a mouse (tiger-mouse?) which has been switch adapted by his Pa.  We bought it off  Ebay (Hong Kong) for less than $10 including postage.

TigerMouse   HeadSwitch

We also have a Jelly Bean Switch to use as a head switch.  Our adapter comes off a $14 clip on desk lamp which we pulled the electrics off, added a small piece of 3ply wood with velcro and attach switches to that.   Significantly less than the $700 special needs mounting device suggested to us.


 Down the track I would consider getting one of the headswitches like this…  but at almost $300 it can sit on our wish list until it becomes ‘essential’. 

The next step is to decide what software I need to use to design a “web style” dashboard (but local on his computer) for all his schoolwork/programs etc to be accessed.  I think Adobe’s Dreamweaver might be the right option – but any suggestions are most welcome.  Basically I want something that is easy for anyone to find what they are looking for from a digital native 5yo to a technologically challenged adult.


Filed under Access all Areas, Technology - things that help, The 'mod' squad

NAIDOC week ’09

NAIDOC celebrations are held around Australia in July each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  All schools have celebrations and events planned – this year’s theme was Honouring Our Elders, Nurturing Our Youth.  

Our school had a ‘doing things together’ day planned for the Thursday.  The kids were encouraged to dress in Red/Yellow/Black clothing to represent the colours on the Aboriginal flag.  That bit was easy, black skinny jeans, red raben shoes, yellow’n’red hoodie & a red vest… sorted (although we really should have sent Mac to school upside down in his chair as his colour scheme was the wrong way round for the flag).

However, while Mac’s wheelchair wheel covers are very cool – they represent the SIOUX indian tribe.  It seemed odd to have indigenous north american symbolism on his wheels during NAIDOC week. 

The solution… new temporary wheel covers.  

New Wheels

Dad and Pa were tasked with undertaking the transformation (I was away in Sydney) – they did a great job.  We had found Aboriginal Art wrapping paper which was then cut and covered in clear contact and attached to the wheels.

A huge success – apparently lots of the kids wished “they could have a wheelchair too so they could change the wheels”… ah, funny what you think is desirable when you are a kid.

We have retained the covers for the time being – they do look good.  I am sure I will be told by Mac’s peers when it is time for a change.


Filed under The 'mod' squad

“pen” de résistance

Unshackle the artist within…

How does a child who has no independent or purposeful movement draw or colour-in on his own?  

How does a child who is unable to grasp or hold things draw on his own?

How does a child with significant vision impairment draw on his own?

It was one of my biggest concerns.  I wanted Mac to have the luxury of being in control of some of his art – I wanted him to draw on his own…

I have been harassing Mac’s Pa for a few years to make him a ‘remote control texta’ (among other things).

I didn’t need to.  Thankfully in 2007 Gwen, from RC Art, did it for us.  

Mac received his Color Bug for Christmas this year.  I haven’t been able to find them in Australia, but a friend sent it over from the USA for us.

We have modified Mac’s remote control by putting a single bar across the two levers.  This allows him to use exactly the same drive action (differential drive) as his modified electric car.  It is much easier for him to learn to use one style of switch for the same action (makes it easier for us to drive too). 

This is Mac’s Remote Controller and Color Bug

The 'bug' and the 'controller'and this is his first artwork he and his Dad did in collaboration.  Mac was in control of blue and orange, and Daddy, the green.

 To find out more about the Color Bug (or for us Aussies… “Colour” Bug) visit and watch the video.

We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the ‘bug’


Filed under The 'mod' squad, What's in my Pencil Case