Professor's research involves one of Time magazine's best inventions of 2021

blue and yellow mobility device with toddler seated in it, in a home or office setting
The Permobil Explorer Mini was named one of the best inventions of 2021 by Time magazine. The child pictured was not involved in the clinical trials.
Image credit - courtesy of Permobil

Lisa Kenyon, professor of physical therapy, is conducting research aimed at improving the quality of clinical trials in pediatric rehabilitation. 

Kenyon, along with two researchers on the West Coast, received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to compare how young children use two mobility devices. One is a power wheelchair by Permobil called Explorer Mini; the other is an adaptive battery-operated ride-on toy car.

The grant focuses specifically on children with cerebral palsy between the ages of 12-36 months. Kenyon said the Explorer Mini is the first power wheelchair approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children that age.

“It’s design is such that it doesn’t look like a power wheelchair. It’s fun, bright, mobile and small,” she said.

The Permobil Explorer Mini was recently named one of the best inventions of 2021 by Time magazine.

headshot of Lisa Kenyon in blue shirt
Lisa Kenyon, professor of physical therapy, is working with researchers at the University of Washington and Oregon State University.
Image credit - University Communications

Kenyon said during the clinical trials, researchers are documenting child preference, parent reaction, impact on children’s development and participation within the home and community. 

“We are excited about the feedback we are getting,” she said. “It’s been exciting for the kids. One mom said her 2-year-old uses the Explorer Mini to do the things that toddlers do. While she can’t crawl or walk, she is able to try and pull down the curtains or drive into the bathroom and play with the toilet — all of those things you do when you’re a toddler.” 

Kenyon said children participating in the clinical trials are able to explore a whole new world. They have to explore the device and explore their environment and learn from their environment. 

“We know in typical development when infants start crawling and walking there’s this whole cascade of developmental progression that occurs in all areas of development – socialization, speech, language, cognition and motor skills increase as they start developing a sense of themselves apart from their parents. Parents are no longer carrying them at all times,” she said.

Kenyon is working with researchers from the University of Washington and Oregon State University. There were eight participants at each university. She said, at this time, this is the only ongoing clinical trial using the Explorer Mini. She hopes the recognition by Time magazine will expand the use of mobility devices.

“Sometimes therapists or parents are reluctant to use these types of devices because they erroneously think their child might not walk or will be lazy and rely on the device,” Kenyon explained. “But we know from research that’s not true. Mobility actually breeds more mobility. 

“Being able to say this device is one the best inventions of 2021 will hopefully open the door to acceptance of these types of devices.”


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