(Photo: Courtesy of Drew Ann Long)
Target recently announced that beginning March 19, the majority of its nationwide stores will offer at least one Caroline’s Cart, a shopping cart designed for children with special needs that is constructed with a built-in seat that faces the caregiver.
“Caroline’s Cart can be a game-changer for families, and we’re excited to offer this for our guests across the country,” said Juan Galarraga, senior vice president of store operations, in a press release.
“We are very pleased to see this development, and I think it continues the disability community’s effort to bring people into the community in all aspects of life,” Curtis L. Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, tells Yahoo Health.
Decker feels this advancement made by “a mainstream, big-box store” sends a vital message to the public.
“It’s important on every aspect,” he says. “It will be a benefit not only to the individuals with disabilities and their families, but it will also change societal attitudes toward people with disabilities. … Shopping is a basic need, and it’s important that people with disabilities are seen out in the community, doing just regular chores.”
Drew Ann Long, the inventor of Caroline’s Cart, couldn’t agree more. A married stay-at-home mother of three children, Long came up with the idea of creating this cart after a stressful shopping experience that took place eight years ago.
The Alabama resident was shopping for groceries with her three kids — all under the age of 10. Her middle child, Caroline, who was 7 at the time, needed to be in a wheelchair because she was born with Rett Syndrome, a neurodevelopmenal disorder that affects mostly girls.
Photo: Courtesy of Drew Ann Long
“I had a crying 2-year-old and a special-needs child while having my 9-year-old help me grocery shop — it was like a three-ring circus!” Long tells Yahoo Health. “I’ll never forget it. I remember standing there thinking, ‘It shouldn’t have to be this way. I’m standing here, having a panic attack just trying to feed my family. And my money is just as green as anybody else’s!’”
That’s when it dawned on her that something needed to change for those people among the “invisible population.”
“That’s what I call us (parents and caregivers of a special-needs individual), because if your store is not accessible, then we are not as visible: We just won’t come,” explains Long. “Retailers provide a variety of shopping carts for their customers — the car carts for toddlers, the electric scooters — and I thought we are a huge underserved market. Retailers should not just provide for the able bodies and not provide for the disabled bodies.”
With zero business experience, Long drew her first design on a napkin while dining with her husband at a restaurant. After years of trial and error — “It took six months of making calls just to find someone who would make me a prototype” — she eventually joined forces with Technibilt, a company she felt had the technical know-how to make a cart worthy of her daughter’s name.
While Caroline’s Carts have been available in many stores over the past few years (the entire chain of Wegmans and ShopRite markets, as well as hundreds of Kroger, Publix, and Whole Foods stores), Target is the largest chain to adopt the cart nationwide. “Target is putting us on the map.”
And even though Long’s creation has been answering an important need for the families of more than 1 million severely disabled children in the U.S., she feels as if they’re just getting started.
“My goal is for every retailer that has a shopping cart and an electric scooter to provide an accessible option, which is Caroline’s Cart,” she states. “More than anything, families want that sense of normalcy. And I know it because I live it.
“It really has been a hard journey — eight years in the making — but a very rewarding journey as well,” she concludes. “And I always laugh with my family and say if anybody truly knew what it took to do this, it would make the best Lifetime movie anybody has ever seen!”