Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007
Electric Mobility for Toddlers with Disabilities
Wizzybug is an electric wheelchair designed for kids with disabilities ages 2 to 5, hitting the UK market this year.
It’s red, has painted eyes and is intended to look more like a fun vehicle or toy than a wheelchair, and it’s loaded with features. The Wizzybug looks huge, but check out the photo on this BBC News article. It’s a tiny ride for tiny people.
Stop a minute and think about babies. From birth their focus is on gaining independenceâ€”sitting up, crawling, walking, climbing and doing everything by themselves. An instant tantrum can erupt at the mere hint of a parent doing something on behalf of a 2- or 3-year-old if the kid wants to do it himself. It’s a daily occurrence with my daughter who turns 3 next month.
A child with disabilities is at risk for “learned helplessness,” the mindset of being pushed around in a chair and having everything done for them. Technology gives them their independence.
So it’s especially heartening to hear that Wizzybug was designed by engineers at the nonprofit Bath Institute of Medical Engineering (BIME) managed by the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. Wizzybug is sold at cost, although still a pricey Â£1,700 to Â£2,000. The organization has a page set aside on its web site for resale notices for used Wizzybugs.
In the 1980s, BIME designed its first “buggy” for children with cerebral palsy. In 2003, they undertook a redesign considering expert opinion and input from children and parents.
Check out the specsâ€¦
- Programmable joystick, custom switches, and parental control
- Activity tray
- Trailer hookup for an optional toy wagon
- Indoor and outdoor use on level ground, including grass, up to a 10 degree slope
- 2 m.p.h. top speed
- Memory foam cushions
- Removable foot rests
- Adjustable tilt and positioning of the seat
- Dismantles in a few minutes for transportation in a car trunk
- Machine weight: 69 lbs.
- Maximum passenger weight: 44 lbs
- Rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride battery runs for three days with “moderate use”
Another mobility solution is the SnapDragon from Dragon Mobility. It’s another UK product.
The SnapDragon isn’t cute, is heavier and somewhat resembles a forklift, but it has its own cool set of features such as vertical adjustment of the seat and customized steering per a child’s own abilities.
Here’s an interesting article, The Wheelchair Toddler, provided by Dan Everard, the man behind SnapDragon. The article mentions babies as young as 9-months-old operating wheelchairs. Imagine that. Some 9-month-olds are learning to crawl or stand up and walk. Babies with disabilities (who have parents with the financial means) can also learn independence at nearly the same age.
If anyone knows of innovative solutions sold in the U.S., please drop me an e-mail.
[Wizzybug link via BBC News]
Update: Regarding availability in North America, BIME told me the following:
“The Wizzybug is new to us and as yet untried in this country. We shall need to sell it here for about a year before we can consider overseas sales. A lot of interest has been generated overseas with the launch of the Buggy and so we will have to give this serious thought in the not too distant future. Your name has been filed for future reference and we will contact you when we have anything to offer.”