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.

Photo of a Wizzybug wheelchair.

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 independence—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 £1,700 to £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 specs…

  • 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
  • Brakes
  • 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.”


10 Responses to “Electric Mobility for Toddlers with Disabilities”

  1. KarenF says:

    I have worked with children who have disabilities for years. I was really heartened by seeing your article on the new technologies available to children with physical disabilities. Your keen observations as a father on your own daughter’s desire for independence really helped me better understand what it must be like from a disabled toddler’s point of view. Jean Piaget became famous by observing his own children, perhaps you will too.

    May 23rd, 2007 at 1:59 am

  2. AJ says:

    I don’t want to mislead anyone. My daughter doesn’t have a disability; I just thought this was a cool product for people to know about, and perhaps remind parents of temporarily-abled kids to be thankful for their good fortune. If parents who need a Wizzybug learn of it here, hey, bonus!

    (“Temporarily-abled” isn’t an original term either. It’s a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere. It makes the point that we’ll all acquire disabilities eventually due to accident, disease or age.)

    May 23rd, 2007 at 8:40 am

  3. Deana says:

    Wow…thanks for the link! I read your page every day through my bloglines and often think while it’s cute , informational, and points to a lot of great products, they are rarely for me.

    My son is disabled, and I was excited to see this new chair. It’s really cute. Pediatric wheelchairs are usually just small models of adult chairs. They are heavy and not fun! And a lot of therapists and doctors don’t know there are choices out there. I’ll have to put the word out about this chair.

    Thanks again.

    May 23rd, 2007 at 4:06 pm

  4. Karen F. says:

    Hi AJ,
    Don’t worry, you aren’t misleading people. I realized that your daughter doesn’t have a disability. I meant her struggle for independence like any three year old struggles. :) It was a great post about some very interesting technology. I was fascinated by the idea of nine month olds operating wheelchairs. It does make sense from a developmental point of view.

    May 23rd, 2007 at 9:03 pm

  5. Jacqui says:

    Thanks for the review AJ. Was given a link to your site from another parent and am now in love with the wizzy kid.

    May 23rd, 2007 at 10:40 pm

  6. Mel says:

    We too are in love with the Wizzybug and would like to know if its available in the U.S.?

    May 25th, 2007 at 4:24 pm

  7. STL Mom says:

    It’s so important that children with disabilities be able to move themselves at the same age that typically-developing children do by crawling or walking. A child who is pushed in a wheelchair by others is getting a completely different experience.

    I think the cuteness of the wheelchair is important too. My daughter has gone up to little girls with sparkling pink or purple wheelchairs or walkers to tell them how much she likes their cool-looking equipment. Her reaction would be very different if they had institutional-looking silver or black devices. A “buggy” that makes adults smile and children run up to check it out is a big plus.

    May 26th, 2007 at 9:18 am

  8. Tam says:

    This is great for toddlers that have no mobility, and need a power chair. I think it’s still best to let kids with upper body mobility learn to ‘walk’ with their arms (i.e. with a cool manual chair – preferably a lightweight sports chair).

    May 27th, 2007 at 9:45 pm

  9. Alison Douthwaite says:

    Our 3 year old daughter has athetoid cerebral palsy which means she has no independent mobility and limited hand function. She got to trial the wizzybug at her therapy centre and it is truly fantastic. She is really learning to move herself about and explore independently. We are definitely going to buy her one. It’s an amazing little invention.

    August 12th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

  10. reann and ryan says:

    my daughters neally two she as spina bifida , she as a shunt and talipies , I think this is a fab wheel chair 4 kids , unfortanatly it’s very exspensive! Ashley as basicaly been left with no mobility as we’ve had alot of trouble from local hospitals ,

    September 18th, 2008 at 11:13 am