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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
Disabled under-fives get mobile
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of a young girl driving her Wizzybug across grass
The Wizzybug can be used by children inside or outside
An electric mobility buggy for disabled children under five has just been launched by a UK charity.

The Wizzybug is on show at Naidex 2007 - the UK's biggest disability exhibition - at the NEC in Birmingham.

The device was designed by engineers at the Bath Institute for Medical Engineering, in consultation with parents and occupational therapists.

It has a top speed of two miles per hour, and can either be controlled by the child or by a parent or carer.

"We tried to get away from the 'wheelchair look' and make it more like a toy," design engineer Simon Halsey told the BBC News website.

Mr Halsey said that as a result of making the design attractive, other children have wanted to use it.

"In our evaluations, we've had friends of the children using it saying, 'I like your car, where did you get it from?'"

But, according to Mr Halsey, behind the bright, attractive looks there is a considerable amount of engineering expertise.

'Big panel'

"We've had a big panel of occupational therapists that we've used as a focus group to help us to design it and make it the best product possible for this age group."

The Wizzybug weighs just over 31kg (69 lb), has a fully adjustable seating system with "memory foam" cushions and a programmable joystick.

It is suitable for use indoors and outside on level terrain.

The Wizzybug is also fitted with a hook so that a trailer can be towed.

The designers say it is easy to adjust without tools and can be dismantled and carried in the boot of a small car.

Photo of a boy using the Wizzybug

It has taken engineers more than three years to develop the Wizzybug, which was then evaluated by children in Bath, Nottingham and Derby who used it on a daily basis for eight weeks.

The charity, Whizz-Kidz, has also been involved in developing the buggy which will sell for between 1,700 and 2,000.

"We're trying to keep the price down because we're a charity and we sell it at cost," said Mr Halsey.

But he is disappointed that - at the moment - mobility equipment such as the Wizzybug cannot be paid for by the NHS.

"We're pushing the boundaries here so that children don't get this thing called 'learned helplessness' - where the child just lies there or gets pushed around while their peers are crawling and walking."

Mr Halsey says the Wizzybug will help young disabled children to explore and do the sorts of things that other children are doing.

Naidex 2007 is at the NEC in Birmingham from April 24 - 26.

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