Wheelchairs are a lifeline to those whose movement is impaired, giving them freedom and independence. But for children it is especially important as the ability to interact with their surroundings is an integral part of their development. Experts say that under-fives need to be able to explore the world for themselves. Apparently children who are not mobile before this age can suffer delayed development and even experience an extra disability of “learned helplessness”.
The NHS produces guidelines as to who is entitled to a wheelchair. However, specific criteria vary from region to region and, for children, it becomes even more complex. In general the NHS does not provide powered chairs for children under the age of five, and some have to wait until they are 12 to become independently mobile. Even getting children regular wheelchairs can be problematic as, unless a child has postural problems, the NHS often assumes a normal buggy will do the job.
Recently the BBC News pagesfeatured a company in Cambridge that produces powered wheelchairs for very young children. Set up by Dan Everard in the 1980s as a response to a lack of suitable wheelchairs for his daughter, Dragonmobility now produces a range of powerchairs for all ages. His daughter Ruth, who was the original inspiration for his designs, now helps run the company.
Sunrise Medical supplies Zippie children’s powered wheelchairs, which boast seating that grows with your child. However it doesn’t appear that the Zippie are suitable for very young children. The Mustang powered wheelchair from Activate looks every bit as good as it sounds but once again is not suitable for the very young. But the excellent Mustang video on the Activate site will have every child from 4 years upwards putting the Mustang on their wish list.
And here’s the rub. These meaty and absolutely essential machines come with a big price tag of thousands of pounds – well out of the budget of most people. Luckily there are organisations out there that can help, such as Whizz Kidz. Their mission is to transform the lives of disabled children by providing the vital equipment, support and life skills they need, when they need them, so they have the chance to develop their full potential.
Many parents rely on private fundraising. They are often surprised at how quickly they can reach a significant sum towards buying the wheelchair that will make their child’s dreams come true. Local press are usually very approachable and happy to run a story featuring your fundraising efforts, raising your profile and getting you to your target sum quicker. Now with the advent of online fundraising pages, such as JustGiving, it is easy to set up your own fundraising page and reach a wide audience of well-wishers who are happy to put their hands in their pockets.