Two-year-old Olive, born with cerebral palsy, is enjoying her first independent steps with a unique long-term loan of a free Bugzi powered wheelchair, provided by children’s disability charity MERU, following an assessment at North West Driving Assessment Service, accredited by the charity Driving Mobility.
Her father, Rhys Corkwood, a paediatric Occupational Therapist, says free provision of specialist equipment in this way is normally unheard of, with funding a massive issue in the world of disability.
The MERU Bugzi is a small, indoor powered wheelchair that can be used on any flat surface such as at home, nursery or school. Suitable for children up to approx. 6 years of age, it enables a child to move around independently, play and interact with friends and family, whilst also encouraging learning about cause and effect as they use the controls.
Olive has quadrilateral or full body cerebral palsy following a complicated, premature birth. Low tone means she is unable to sit, stand or walk unaided and lives with tightness on one side of her body. Olive also has cochlear implants to overcome deafness and her condition is affecting her speech.
Rhys says: “Olive had tried a small walker but was unable to step, so my friend, a physiotherapist, recommended the Bugzi to me. I visited an event called Kidz to Adultz North with Olive to trial specialist equipment. North West Driving Assessment Service (NWDAS) was exhibiting alongside Driving Mobility and MERU, which provided a fantastic, hands-on opportunity to try out the Bugzi.”
MERU manufactures the unique powered wheelchair and charitable support enables them to provide free loans to families across the UK; following an application, assessment and a small refundable deposit. MERU works closely with several Driving Mobility centres across the UK, whose specialist staff can provide Bugzi assessments. Driving Mobility accredits a network of twenty independent organisations, many with satellite services, which provide professional information and assessments for safe and independent mobility.
The Corkwood family from Manchester applied online to MERU for a Bugzi wheelchair, which Olive’s father states was a straightforward process. He also explained he could not fault his daughter’s assessment at North West Driving Assessment Service, part of the Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. NWDAS began offering Bugzi assessments as a new outreach service in 2019, which complements the Centre’s existing provision of driver, passenger and equipment assessments for the North West community.
Rhys says: “I really valued how uncomplicated this process was as life can be so busy for parents with disabled children – you feel you move from one appointment to the next. Our MERU application was handled quickly and within a month we attended NWDAS for an assessment. It was an additional bonus to have a Driving Mobility assessment centre locally in St Helens.”
“The centre’s Occupational Therapist, Hilary, explained the assessment service clearly and discussed Olive’s medical history and her physical abilities. Olive’s always happy to meet people and the staff were clearly interested in her, so it was a non-pressured, very personal experience. Olive drove the Bugzi, tried different hand controls and played with toys. She was totally at ease. I can’t rate the assessment centre highly enough. We even had a moving and handling assessment with our car.”
“The Bugzi means Olive can move independently for the first time. She practices navigation in a therapy space at home, whilst playing with her sister, 3-year-old Connie. We recently took the Bugzi to a church hall party. Olive loved it – a big, wide, open space where she could move freely and interact with other children. Of course, they all wanted to chase her which was delightful to watch.”
Emma Pryce, Bugzi Engineer from MERU, comments: “Bugzi is a safe, compact and manoeuvrable indoor wheelchair for young children with disabilities. Our loan scheme provides families with access to a Bugzi so that a child can benefit from experience and learning that independent mobility brings. We work with several Driving Mobility assessment centres across the UK, where specialist staff can adapt and tailor a Bugzi chair to the child’s needs and usually it can be taken home on the same day.”
Olive’s father concludes: “Most local authorities wait until a child is much older before assessing for a powered chair, yet the skills that Olive is currently acquiring through use of the Bugzi cannot be overestimated. Learning to move within a certain space, concentration, coordination, independence – these are fundamental skills. A free loan and assessment service such as this, is something I’ve never come across before either as a parent or an Occupational Therapist. It’s a very ethical service.”
For more information regarding North West Driving Assessment Service: www.bridgewater.nhs.uk/northwestdrivingassessmentservice or call 01942 483713. For more information on MERU or the Bugzi loan scheme visit www.meru.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find your local Driving Mobility Centre please visit: https://www.drivingmobility.org.uk/find-a-centre/