How a mom's shopping cart design is helping children with special needs across the country

This stay-at-home mom once dreamed her special needs daughter would feel included in day-to-day activities, like grocery shopping. Now, she's making the country more accessible, one shopping cart at a time.

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Drew Ann Long of Alabaster, Alabama, remembers just eight short years ago, she was frustrated bringing her daughter Caroline to the grocery store.

"She was about 7 or 8 and she's never walked," Long told "I just wanted some sweet tea that day, and I got so angry that I was struggling in a store, pushing a wheelchair and pulling a cart."

Caroline has Rett syndrome, a degenerative disorder that affects girls almost exclusively, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition causes problems with muscle movement and coordination.

While her mom was used to putting her in the booster seat of shopping carts or in big-kid sized "fun carts," Caroline was quickly growing out of both options.

"There has never been a special needs cart, which really stunned me," Long explained. "There's such a variety of carts for people in different groups that make you feel comfortable, yet the special needs population was not included. We are such an under-served market."

When she got home, she started doodling the ideal shopping cart on a napkin, equipping it with a backward-facing seat that could hold up to 250 pounds.

Long said she held onto the image for months before finding a company several states away that was willing to create a prototype of her specialized shopping cart.

"I took the prototype, picked it up in my minivan and it sat in my dining room for two years," she said, asking herself, "Okay, now what?"

Finally, with the help of online search engines and social media, she found a shopping cart manufacturing company in Georgia that was willing to create her product.

Because it was a special request, Long was stuck with the six-figure bill for the 100 shopping carts she commissioned. The seat mold itself, Long said, cost more than $90,000.

To fund her project, Long said she dried up her and her husband's retirement fund. Along the way, her husband lost his job, and 12 shopping carts were destroyed as a result of an unexpected plant fire.

"There were so many hurdles," she said.

Eventually, she convinced several independent grocery stores to carry the Caroline Cart, named after her daughter.

"That really got people talking," Long said. "Someone would see it on Facebook, and [I told them], 'I need you to tell your store you need it.'"

Eventually, momentum picked up and other stores began contacting Long, asking about the cart.

Everything changed when Technibilt, Ltd., a leading shopping cart creator that supplies most chain supermarkets in the country, reached out, years after originally turning down Long's design.

"From there, wow, we exploded," she said. Long was now able to reach out to big chains like Target and Walmart, whose stores are now fully supplied with the Caroline Cart.

The Caroline Cart is also available in five different countries and commissaries at military bases.

Since exploding in stores nationwide, Long said other communities have been sharing stories about how the Caroline Cart helped their own families.

One Ontario man shared his story about pushing his wife in the cart after melanoma spread to her brain and she lost the use of her right leg.

An Indiana woman now takes her elderly mother to the store more frequently. A child with a broken leg can now pick out his own cereal.

And of course, Long said her regular trips to the grocery store with her own daughter have become significantly easier.

"One thing special needs families want is inclusion. I want Caroline to be able to do the same things as my other children," Long explained. "Just because she has a disability doesn't mean she shouldn't be included in every aspect of social life."

To find out how you can bring Caroline's Carts to your local retailer, visit their website or call 1-800-351-CART.