DePaul team works wheelchair magic to make boy's Halloween dream come true

Iker's dream Halloween costume
Iker's dream Halloween costume was to be Yoshi, a dinosaur character from the Mario series, and to ride in the elusive gold car from the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe game. (Image courtesy of Marissa Nelson)
Students from DePaul, led by LeAnne Wagner, a professional lecturer in the School of Design within the College of Computing and Digital Media, came together to create a unique Halloween costume for an Elgin boy in a wheelchair.

Wagner heard of Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit organization that makes "epic" Halloween costumes for children in wheelchairs, and decided to lead a team of student volunteers in transforming one child's wheelchair into a magical ride.

"I knew we were opening up the Idea Realization Lab and I thought this would be a great project to take on because we'd have access to all the tools and materials we would need to do it, " Wagner says. "I thought this would be a great fit."

Magic Wheelchair match

Through Magic Wheelchair, the DePaul team was matched with Iker, a 13-year-old boy who suffers from a severe form of muscular dystrophy that confines him to a wheelchair. Upon meeting Iker, Wagner and the students learned right away of Iker's love for the Mario Kart video games. Iker's dream Halloween costume was to be Yoshi, a dinosaur character from the series, and to ride in the elusive gold car from the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe game.

"While we were there visiting with him, Iker showed us where he was in the game, including his favorite gold car, so we worked on recreating that car from the game," Wagner says.

DePaul's designing dream team

The student volunteers came from a variety of academic backgrounds and skill levels, including art design, costume design, game design, sewing and communications. However, none of the students, or Wagner, had any experience creating dimensional objects.
Students in Idea Realization Lab
The students learned to use multiple tools in the Idea Realization Lab, including saws, 3-D printers, soldering and digital fabrication tools. (DePaul University/LeAnne Wagner)

Working in the Idea Realization Lab, which opened on the Daley Building's third floor in September, the team looked at how they could best adapt the wheelchair and transform it into the signature gold cart for Iker. With patience and practice, the students learned to use multiple tools in the College of Computing and Digital Media lab, including saws, 3-D printers, soldering and digital fabrication tools.

Creating this costume was a "great opportunity for the students to dive in with a really specific, tangible reason to learn these new tools that are available to them in the Idea Realization Lab," Wagner notes.

During evenings and weekends, the DePaul team learned a lot about designing for accessibility and adaptability for Iker's special needs so the costume would look true to Mario's cart, but also be functional for his Halloween trick-or-treating.

"We came together to make an impact on this child's life and bring a smile to his face," says Azka Asif, a volunteer and digital communications graduate student. "It was so exciting for us to see Iker's face and see his reaction to his costume, while also helping to raise money and awareness of Magic Wheelchair."

Learning through making

From an academic perspective, Wagner says this project helped her understand how to craft coursework in the makerspace environment.

"Part of the philosophy of Idea Realization Lab is to encourage learning through making and doing, rather than thinking and planning; to promote jumping in and learning by trying and failing sometimes," Wagner says. "Learning through the process of trying and assembling things has been an awesome way for students to learn."

In keeping with DePaul's Vincentian mission, Wagner says, you can't have better fit, to help someone locally and volunteering to do something really positive in the community. 

"I've learned so much about the design lab through this project just by being there every week to work on the costume, using all the equipment, and being able to get familiar with all the tools," Asif says. "This has been a really cool project. It's learning, but it's also giving back."