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WAUKEE, Iowa — Engineering students at Waukee APEX have created everything from adaptive toys for Blank Children’s Hospital to automated inspection systems for Accumold.

“We work with non-profits and businesses and we gain skills and knowledge and they gain the projects we work on,” explains recent graduate Adi Hazan, “so it helps both of us.”

They’ve never built anything quite like their most recent project – a wheelchair-mounted, modified Nerf blaster.

“Honestly, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life in relation to people with disabilities and equipment,” says Joe Hogan.

He started “Train to Inspire” with the goal of making fun physical activities accessible for everyone, so from obstacle courses and dodge ball to taekwondo and rock climbing, Joe’s tried it with his participants. 

“One of our most popular activities is Nerf guns,” he explains, “unfortunately, a volunteer or staff member would have to hold this gun up for someone who doesn’t have the strength or dexterity to do it themselves.”

Not anymore, thanks to the new invention, and Jenna Batten couldn’t be more excited. A car accident left her paralyzed during her senior year of high school and she knows what the new and improved Nerf blaster means. “

A kid with a disability sits on the sidelines and watches everyone else do these types of activities over and over and over,” she says, “this changes everything.”

Engineering instructor Tyler Wright can’t hide his excitement about the project. “It became apparent that we’re building a prototype that will be tested and vetted out and then made scalable to help people all over the state, country, the world,” he says with a huge smile.

The work also means a new perspective for students like Adi, Caleb, Drew, and John. “It was amazing to see our project work,” says Adi, “to see her use it was cool and it’s a real example that we’ve done something that’s a big deal.”

It may still look like a Nerf blaster, but in the right hands, it can change people’s worlds.

“Imagine there’s something in life you can’t do – no matter what it might be – and then a piece of technology comes along and allows you to do it, “says Joe.  Jenna adds, “Giving someone control even when it’s just for a recreational fun and not every day – that’s control in one piece of their life that they never had before…that is huge. It’s huge.”