Skip to main content

Engineering Students at Johns Hopkins Customize Stroller for Syrian Child with Special Needs

  • Published: 2017-05-01 : Johns Hopkins (jhu.edu).
  • Synopsis: Students customized stroller for local child with special needs, adding improvements to make mobility simpler and safer for him and his family

Main Document

Quote: "Our goal was to design a stroller that would support Karam's body and frame and hold him in a secure and comfortable position, while also being lightweight enough and foldable, so his mother could manage it on her own."

In an effort to enhance his quality of life, undergraduate engineering students from Johns Hopkins University have customized a stroller for a local child with special needs, adding improvements that will make mobility simpler and safer for him and his family.

The budding engineers recently presented the new stroller to Karam Tarazi, 6, to the delight of his mother, Dana Ajilikin. She said the students' ingenuity will allow her family to enjoy more outings like the one she and her son recently enjoyed, touring through the tulips at Baltimore's Sherwood Gardens.

"The new stroller is just wonderful!" said Ajilikin. "It is very lightweight, so I can get it in and out of the car easily, and it is very comfortable for Karam. Much better than his heavy wheelchair, which was almost impossible for me to manage alone."

A team of Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering students adapted a store-bought stroller to provide a safe, lightweight ride for 6-year-old Karam Tarazi, who has a rare progressive genetic disease that has damaged his nervous system. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University
About This Image: A team of Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering students adapted a store-bought stroller to provide a safe, lightweight ride for 6-year-old Karam Tarazi, who has a rare progressive genetic disease that has damaged his nervous system. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University
Family excursions were far more difficult before Karam's revamped vehicle was unveiled. Now, to embark on such outings, Ajilikin just has to lift her son into the new lighter stroller and off they go.

Born in Syria, Karam suffers from a rare progressive genetic disease that has damaged his nervous system, resulting in a lack of muscle control, spasticity, and other physical symptoms. The dark haired, big-eyed little boy cannot walk or talk. More than a year ago, his parents brought him to Baltimore from Damascus for treatment, and the family settled in the area. At a health expo last fall, Ajilikin and her husband, Ousama Tarazi, met Angela Tyler of V-LINC, a Baltimore nonprofit that matches people who have special challenges caused by disease or disability with volunteers who can design and build custom solutions for them.

"Dana told me right away about the difficulty of managing Karam in his heavy wheelchair when she had to take him out alone, and how what they needed was a lightweight stroller that was big enough and sturdy enough for their boy," said Tyler, V-LINC volunteer services manager. Tyler reached out to Niel Leon, a Johns Hopkins senior staff engineer and V-LINC volunteer who set up the project for the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) at the university's Whiting School of Engineering.

Karam prepares for a test ride in his new stroller, specially adapted for his medical condition by Johns Hopkins undergrads. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University
About This Image: Karam prepares for a test ride in his new stroller, specially adapted for his medical condition by Johns Hopkins undergrads. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University
"A commercially available stroller that would meet Karam's needs would cost more than $1,600. I knew the students were up to the challenge of creating what the family needed for much less," Leon said. Working through V-LINC's "What-I-Wish" program, the students had access to $500 for the parts and supplies they needed to create the custom stroller. Those costs are paid for by donors to V-LINC.

Led by Sina Fahimi Hanzaei, a junior mechanical engineering major in the Whiting School, the eight-member student team set to work immediately, meeting with and observing Karam and interviewing both his parents and Brittany Hornby, the boy's physical therapist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"Our goal was to design a stroller that would support Karam's body and frame and hold him in a secure and comfortable position, while also being lightweight enough and foldable, so his mother could manage it on her own," explained Fahimi Hanzaei.

In fact, it was the opportunity to apply his mechanical engineering skills to a project that would benefit a child with a disability and his family that spurred Fahimi Hanzaei to join the student team.

Karams parents, Dana Ajilikin and Ousama Tarazi, say that on future family excursions, the sturdy redesigned stroller will be much easier to manage than their sons heavy wheelchair. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University.
About This Image: Karams parents, Dana Ajilikin and Ousama Tarazi, say that on future family excursions, the sturdy redesigned stroller will be much easier to manage than their sons heavy wheelchair. Photo by Will Kirk/Johns Hopkins University.
"This whole area--using engineering to make people's lives better--is something I care deeply about," said the student from Iran. "I have family members, people very close to me, who are affected by disability. So, this project hits me close to home."

After extensive research, the students purchased an off-the-shelf, heavy-duty umbrella stroller designed to carry children up to 55 pounds, and modified it in several ways.

First, they extended the head, back, and leg rests to accommodate the child's long, slender build, and to allow for at least two more years of growth.

Second, they replaced the original small back wheels with larger lawn mower wheels from a nearby home-improvement store.

"The big challenge was that the brakes had to be on the back wheels for safety, so we took the brakes out of the old wheels and installed them in the new, larger wheels," Fahimi Hanzaei says. "It was a complicated situation to actually mount those larger wheels on the frame with the brake system, but fortunately, we got help from people in the Whiting School's manufacturing department."

The resulting stroller weighs less than 15 pounds, supports the child's unstable torso, and, best of all, folds up easily. Fahimi Hanzaei and Leon presented it to Karam's family on the child's sixth birthday.

In addition to team leader Fahimi Hanzaei, the undergraduates who designed and customized the stroller were Andre Ruas, Joseph Chung, Mina Banoub, Maria Coleman, Stefanie Kaye Shirley, Miranda Grenville, and Sumita Rajpurohit.

Also, as president of the Johns Hopkins ASME chapter, Cora Dimming helped organize the engineering project.

Related Information:

  1. Carolines Cart: Grocery Cart for Special Needs Children - Parents and caregivers of special needs children to have access to a grocery cart specifically designed for challenges faced when shopping - Caroline's Cart
  2. For Toddlers with Disabilities Mobility Plays Important Role in Development - Oregon State University study reveals marked differences in play and activity among toddlers with and without disabilities - Oregon State University
  3. Tow Hitch Invention for Electric Mobility Scooters - Article explains and demonstrates the benefits of the JCV TOW HITCH for electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters - Chris Van


Information from our Disability News: Stories, Events and Publications section - (Full List).

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.


Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.





  1. New Peer-reviewed Journal 'Autism in Adulthood' Launching in 2019
  2. People Want to Live Longer - But Only If in Good Health
  3. Canada's Aging Population Signals Need for More Inclusive, Accessible Transportation System
  4. Britain's Unproductive Disabled: A Continuing Moral Panic?

Citation



Disclaimer: Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.