Are you in a candy fog on this day after Halloween? Can you handle one more sweet thing? This one isn’t a confection, it’s a story.
It can be a real challenge for children with disabilities to engage in certain activities, and trick or treating and other celebrations surrounding Halloween are some of the items on that list. Every year, a dedicated and creative group of Dassault Systèmes employees give one wheelchair-bound kid an extremely fun and very positive experience for this beloved holiday.
Since 2018, our SOLIDWORKS brand has been involved with Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit whose mission is to give every child in a wheelchair an incredible costume and an unforgettable experience, at no cost.
The SOLIDWORKS Build Team has worked with families local to our Waltham, Massachusetts headquarters, creating a monster truck for Jonah, a motorcycle for Ben, and a castle for Freyja. A team of SOLIDWORKS Champions in the United Kingdom has also participated, building a dragon for George.
This year, 11 year old music lover Savannah was the focus for this team and their epic costume-making skills. Something that was extra special: Halloween is Savannah’s favorite holiday, fitting since she and her family live in Salem, Massachusetts – American’s Halloween epicenter! Her parents have always created amazing costumes for her to enjoy all the happenings in her town at this time of year. But she’s never been able to participate in the town parade, and they’ve also always wanted to introduce Savannah to more people, to help others better understand what it’s like to live with a disability. (You can learn more about sweet Savannah here!)
Savannah communicates with the world using a BIGmack, a device that acts as her voice, allowing her to respond to questions or be heard. And she loves music. Her parents asked for a costume that combines her passion for music with the way she uses her voice: a judge’s chair from Savannah’s favorite TV singing competition, NBC’s The Voice. If you haven’t seen it, the first round of the competition has contestants sign with the four judges’ backs to them. When a judge hears a performer they like, they hit a big red button and their chair turns around and flashes lights and the words I Want You.
Our build team created a to-scale replica of a chair from the show. Though for Savannah’s safety the chair does not spin, she has easy access to the red button that controls everything: the color of the costume’s lights, songs that come from a playlist of her favorite music, and text displayed across a LED panel in the base. (If you’re interested to learn more about the design and building process, you can read about that here.)
The team didn’t just make something that looked cool. They customized it to Savannah’s specific challenges. They experimented to ensure Savannah could easily access her BIGmack button. They built in a light panel behind the button to catch her attention, since Savannah is legally blind, but very attracted to light. This panel also houses the speakers for her music, so she can dance along and enjoy her favorite songs. In addition to her wheelchair being all decked out, the team seamstress made a sequined dress – a material that provides a sensory element for Savannah to touch and that gave her extra sparkle as she participated in Salem’s Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, the official kick off the Halloween season in the city. Over 10,000 spectators watched as Savannah was able able to participate in the parade for the first time thanks to her Magic Wheelchair.
That’s another way the team took everything into consideration. While wheelchairs are, of course, usually pushed (and this one can be too), because the parade route transverses old cobblestones from Salem’s colonial days and everyone wanted to make sure Savannah was comfortable, the team also designed and created a rubber-wheeled wagon to pull the costume along.
As it was dark when the parade got underway, the lights on Savannah’s costume shined brightly. Since the lights are programmed to changed color and pattern every time she hit the button, Savannah did so along the entire route making the crowd go wild.
The SOLIDWORKS Build Team marched in the parade with Savannah and her parents, handing out goody bags filled with sensory toys, stickers, SOLIDWORKS light-up pins, and Magic Wheelchair flyers.
The crowd was enchanted by Savannah and her costume, and throughout the route people chanted, “Team Savannah!” and “Go Savannah!,” cheering her on the entire time. Savannah smiled throughout and her parents were overwhelmed at the outpouring of affection and attention from the crowd. They were thrilled that their daughter received so much positive attention from strangers, achieving their goal of having people truly see Savannah and be inspired by her.
Savannah planned to also wear her costume at school and for trick or treating route. Her parents are already brainstorming about reusing the base for a new costume next year!
The Magic Wheelchair project is proudly accelerated by the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab and supported by La Fondation Dassault Systèmes. The 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is our global startup accelerator and open innovation program that’s committed to empowering startups and makers with ideas that can potentially shift scales of innovation. In the case of Magic Wheelchair, the project scored very high on its ability to leverage collective intelligence and our 3DEXPERIENCE platform solutions to create a big impact on society.
If Magic Wheelchair is a project you and your community would like to participate in, you can start your own team! You can also donate to Magic Wheelchair in Savannah’s name on her Classy.org page.