At first glance, Florence appears to be like any other young, carefree toddler. Full of glee, light and mischief. But the toy-like device that she is seated in is not, in fact, a toy. It is a Wizzybug powered wheelchair. Florence was born with a disability which means she cannot walk.
Image: Author's own
When she first got a Wizzybug it gave her the very first opportunity to move with ease in whatever direction she chooses. It offers her the chance to steer away from her mum and dad in defiance; to play with her young relatives rather than watching on. What's more, she is finally the same height as her peers at the local church group when seated in her Wizzy.
A Wizzybug is not necessarily a common thing to come by. The chances are you have never seen one before and, if you have, you had no idea what it was. The charity I work for, Designability, designed and developed the Wizzybug between 2003 - 2007. Our head occupational therapist led extensive research into what a young child's mobility vehicle should be like in response to observing the number of children who were sat in pushchairs and unable to join in with play.
Setting up a loan scheme to provide Wizzybugs for free
We spoke with many families and formed a 'power group' of paediatric professionals consisting of leading children's occupational therapists and physiotherapists from around the UK. From that point on our final Wizzybug was guided by families and professional experts from the protoype phase onwards.
There were and are mobility devices out there that serve the under fives, but the majority are quite bland and clinical. Those that are brighter with more of a child's aesthetics come with a hefty price tag attached. The issue of affordability encouraged Designability to fundraise to be able to launch the Wizzybug Loan Scheme - each child who is eligible for a Wizzybug can have one for free.
Image: Author's own
As adults, it is often hard to remember how much learning and development that came from exploration when we were young - movement, touch and the freedom to make choices about where we went (with parental consent, of course!). Wizzybugs offer possibilities to a group of children who previously had no means of going from one spot to another without a little help from a relative. One of Evie's favourite past-times is picking flowers and touching the trees. A true child of nature; her Wizzybug gives her the capability to move around the local woodland and collect a wild bouquet to give to her mum. One of life's small abilities that many would take for granted.
The power to communicate through movement
But what about communication? If a child's disability affects their ability to speak, how can they express themselves if there are also limits to their mobility? A Wizzybug can be a means of gesture and body language that gives boys and girls the outlet to say "come and catch me" or "follow me and see what I've found". Their surroundings suddenly become places to be navigated and communicated.
Tia's parents have found that her speech has improved immensely since she had access to a Wizzybug. Her confidence has grown which, in turn, has given her the foundation to express herself in ways they never thought would be possible.
In her mum's words:
"Tia suffered a brain trauma when she was six days old and her paediatrician warned us that this would result in brain damage of some degree. So, when she was diagnosed with whole body cerebral palsy at six months old, we were prepared. What we weren't prepared for was the news that she would probably never walk, talk, crawl, sit unaided or feed properly.
"Tia is a determined little girl but her lack of independence meant that she was unable to do the simple things that most other children take for granted. She couldn't push her dollies in her pram. She couldn't go and get a book to read or play like her peers.
"After a lovely morning spent with the team at Designability, Wizzybug came home with us and Tia was so excited to have her own Wizzybug which she calls "Wizzy".
"To begin with, our furniture took a bit of a beating and our dog hid under the kitchen table for days, but it wasn't long before she had mastered a three point turn!
"Imagine the joy we felt when, for the first time, she went over to her bookcase to choose a book and pushed her dolls pram all by herself.
"Tia is now able to drive Wizzy all the way to her bedroom and follow us into another room without having to wait for us to push her.
"The biggest difference it has made is to her confidence - thanks to Wizzybug even her speech has improved."
Image: Author's own
If you know a child who could benefit from a Wizzybug, please take a look at more information on the Designability website.