A brief history of the Wizzybug Loan Scheme: Nina’s story

nina-evansNina Evans, Research Occupational Therapist at Designability, was part of the team that developed our Wizzybug wheelchair. Here, she looks back at how Designability worked to design a fun mobility device that could transform the lives of young disabled children.

I started in my role as an occupational therapist for Designability (then known as the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering) in 2001. The team was very small when I joined but I was immediately impressed with the friendly and positive approach that is still characteristic of the current team at Designability.

Over my time here so far, I have been lucky to contribute to a wide range of research projects.

But the project that I am most passionate about is Wizzybug. I have been lucky to have been part of the whole process: from ideas which became drawings and concept models, then prototypes and finally the Wizzybug we know and love today. The advent of the loan scheme has meant we have a growing the fleet of Wizzybugs made in Bath but ‘wizzing’ around the UK, and the world.

Speaking with families and those who support them

Designability already had infant and junior bugs which had been created in response to observing the number of children who were sat in pushchairs and unable to join in with play. The bugs were a ‘sit astride’ model based on a traditional nursery toy and were being sold on a not-for-profit basis. Although they were one of the very first devices built to get children mobile in the UK, their basic design was then quite dated. It was time for a rethink.

dsc_0018In 2003, I was asked to review the infant and junior bugs’ suitability for helping young children’s mobility in their early years. We wrote to all the families who had an infant or junior bug to ask them what was good about them, as well as what improvements they felt could be made. The other important step was sending out a questionnaire to paediatric occupational therapists and physiotherapists around the country to assess user requirements for a new pre-school powered mobility vehicle.

All of the professionals who responded were invited to be part of a focus group who would help to inform and guide the design and development of the Wizzybug. From the very start, we were lucky enough to be joined by Anne Harris, Jan Nicholson and Eric Lucas – three very experienced occupational therapists who are experts in the field of paediatric mobility and continue to support the scheme today.

From that point on, we had physiotherapists and occupational therapists representing families, as well as families themselves, helping us during the protoype phase onwards.

Getting the design just right

Designing Wizzybug was not a quick process. In order to ensure it met specific needs, we had to keep consulting those with required expertise and several families helped us to road test the very first version wizzybugs

dsc_0033That included Sophie, who kept a diary of all of her adventures with her Wizzybug. Her family recorded where Sophie was using her Wizzy, what she was doing in it and how it made her feel. It’s some of the earliest recorded moments we have of the difference a Wizzybug can make.

In 2007, Wizzybug was ready to be sold. We had tried our very hardest to get the price of Wizzy to be as low as possible, but we continued to receive a high volume of enquiries from parents who were still finding it too high a cost to fundraise for.

In 2011, we managed to secure initial funding from The Starfish Trust to enable us to start loaning out the Wizzybugs free of charge to families. It was thanks to their generous donation that Wizzys started going out all over the UK to children who got to have their first experience of moving independently.

The Wizzybug appointments

The Wizzybug appointments have been a highlight of my working life. We use play and any fun we can think of to encourage the children to start moving in Wizzybug. Our Designability teddy bear often makes an appearance and loves to have go in if the children aren’t quite ready to sit in and try themselves yet!

We have been lucky to share laughter and tears as children experience something novel and yet the most natural thing in the world that is to move themselves. It has been amazing seeing some of our dreams come true in making a design that would be appealing to families. The results that are now shared with us show how important it is that children have the opportunity to be independently mobile.

One of my original ambitions was to see two children in Wizzybugs together. This was very unlikely in the early days when so few Wizzybugs were about. This eventually happened when two families met and sent me a picture of a pair of new friends! Another key moment came very recently when I saw a little girl in a Wizzybug at a fireworks display which is not so surprising but it meant a great deal to me to unexpectedly see the Wizzybug being enjoyed in such an ordinary and everyday way.

We always wanted Wizzybug to be a character and that has happened and I am thrilled when I see postings of the fun and mischief that Wizzybug is creating. By 2014, the Wizzybug loan scheme was extremely busy and two occupational therapists, Rae and Susanna joined Designability specifically to look after Wizzybug.

Continuing our research into 2017

Our research continues and soon we will once again be recruiting families to help us with research to learn more about the experience of early years mobility. This will enable us to present more informed evidence about why this opportunity is so important for children and their families.

This Christmas we are celebrating our Wizzybugs as part of ‘Wizzmas’. If you would like to find out more, or would like to support the Wizzybug Loan Scheme, please visit our website.

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