Teacher, Techie, Team Up To Make Recess More Fun For Disabled Students

What could be simpler than two kids kicking a ball to each other?

Nothing, really. Except if one of those children is in a wheelchair.

It is just the type of challenge, though, that Melissa Abadia is up for taking on. The Adaptive Physical Education Specialist with the San Leandro Unified School District saw just such a need among some of her students, and decided to do what she could to break down that barrier.

“They deserve to have something like this. They deserve to do things independently and to have success and to feel a part of the group,” Abadia said.

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“This” is the Kicker Helper, a device that Abadia dreamed up to help children in wheelchairs kick a ball.

Combining ideas she had seen at conferences, on the Internet and in physical education catalogs, Abadia came up with the idea to create a device, either operated by a lever or button, that would attach to a wheelchair and swing close to the ground to mimic the legs kicking motion.

Abadia tried a few, crude attempts at making it herself with PVC, a tennis shoe, a pool noodle and zip ties, Abadia enlisted the help of Sam Lamott, who works at the TechShop in San Francisco.

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Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz

“Luckily I met him and he was willing to kind of think outside the box and kind of figure it out… And from the first 10 minutes, he was excited about this.”

Together, they have created a prototype that allows wheelchair-bound students to not only participate in physical education, but join other able bodied students in normal recess games.


“I think that’s my job,” Abadia says. “I feel like that’s the core of my job is inclusion and bringing these guys together.”

Abadia says that though each kid is different, she is able to measure the results of the Kicker Helper through smiles, body language, eyes movements and level of attentiveness and engagement.

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“Everybody needs a goal… So it’s different for each kid.”

As she continues to improve the prototype, Abadia's overarching goal is to raise funds through an Indiegogo campaign to build enough devices for each of her students.

“You have to be passionate about something and when you are, it’s hard to give up on that.” Abadia, who is in her sixth year of teaching, did not not stumble into the area of adaptive physical education by chance. Having struggled with a learning disability herself growing up, she says that school was often difficult. But defying the odds, she went on to receive an MBA and later, a teaching credential.

After shadowing an adaptive P.E. teacher early in her teaching career, she says she was transfixed. Thinking that the the position looked like fun and wanting to know more, she decided, despite some receiving some skepticism, that this was the career path she wanted to follow.

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But when she first began teaching, she was reminded of the difficult nature of teaching adaptive physical education. Many of her students were in wheelchairs, had medical issues and feeding tubes. It was facing these challenges that she came to an important realization that would later become the idea for the Kicker Helper.

“I really was dumbfounded in the beginning and I slowly learned that I'm supposed to build things for them. I'm supposed to make things so they can do… so they can have a goal.” 

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