Welcome to RARE a blog dedicated to the rare disease industry by Laura Hulley, a Recruitment Consultant at SciPro.
RARE - Matthew Ford
In this episode of RARE, I welcome Matthew Ford to talk about the amazing work Designability do and shine a light on one of their products, the Wizzybug. Matt is Designability’s Head of Engineering and Design. This charity organisation produces medical devices and other products to help disabled people overcome their day-to-day challenges. The Wizzybug is an electric wheelchair designed specifically for pre-school children living with conditions such as cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy or other conditions that impact their ability to walk.
In our conversation, Matt tells us about his journey and his current role at Designability, the challenges they currently face and how people can get involved and provide support to help more young disabled children get a Wizzybug.
Matt comes from an industrial design background, mainly in consumer products with a focus on engineering and manufacturing. He decided six years ago that he wanted to move into a role where he was able to have more of an impact on people’s lives and use his skills to do something with more purpose. His role at Designability allows him to do something that really gives back and helps people. As Head of Engineering and Design, Matt looks after all the user research, new product design and manufacturing.
Designability was formed in 1968 as a collaboration between an Engineer called Bevan Horstmann and a Surgeon called Kenneth Lloyd-Williams in Bath. Horstmann’s daughter was disabled, and they became acutely aware of the lack of medical equipment for children. With the support of the University of Bath, they set up in St Martin’s Hospital and the charity was created from there. They began at first on products such as crutches and calipers for children where previously adult products had been used. As time went on and the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering evolved, they focused less on medical equipment and started to transition into products for people with disabilities to help them in their everyday lives. They then rebranded as Designability to better describe what it was they were doing with a greater focus on human-centred product design rather than purely medical engineering. Designability is known for its expertise working with a rich network of users and carers with a wide range of disabilities to ensure that the products they design are products disabled people want to use.
The Wizzybug was created in 2005 as a follow on from a previous product that was essentially an electric buggy for children with cerebral palsy as there were very few products for children of such a young age. They had found that children who developed this independent mobility, developed in other areas of their life as well. So, by giving the children the access to move around by themselves and the independence to make their own choices, they increased their understanding of the world around them and thus helping them build relationships with other people.
The Wizzybug is a large part of what Designability do, they manufacture them and give them out to families on a free loan scheme and have just celebrated the 1000th disabled child and their family getting a Wizzybug via their loan scheme. The loan scheme is a national scheme where Designability loan a Wizzybug, free of charge, to families who have a disabled child. Designability fundraise for the product, build the Wizzybug and with their team of Occupational Therapists, conduct the appropriate assessments before handing them over to the family for as long as they need it. At the end of the scheme when the family no longer need the Wizzybug, it comes back to Designability, they then refurbish the device, and it then goes to another family who needs it.
Although Designability has just reached its 1000th Wizzybug loan, it took ten years to reach that point. There are many, many more children who could benefit from having a Wizzybug and the independence that it gives them. Designability have the ambition to reach the next 1000th loan by 2026 bringing with it a whole host of challenges, including the need to scale up their manufacturing and increase the speed of production to give to more families at a quicker rate. They also need to find ways to increase their reach across the country to deliver the product a lot closer to where these families live. They also need to increase their ability to manage the extra loans to run an effective loan scheme.
How can people help and support Designability?
LOTS OF WAYS! Anything from a cake sale to running a marathon or a sponsored walk. Any money that is raised is extremely important to Designability and very welcomed!
Last year, SciPro managed to raise £5,000 to donate to Designability to build a Wizzybug and this year, we are embarking on a marathon in September to do it again. Please remember to sponsor us! We really want to raise enough funds to build another Wizzybug to help another family and to contribute to Designability on their quest to present another 1000 Wizzybugs via their loan scheme to families who need them by 2026!
You can sponsor SciPro to complete a marathon at our Just Giving page below:
More information about other ways you can support can be found on Designability’s website:
Thank you once again to Matt for taking the time to talk to us about the important work taking place at Designability and the impact the Wizzybugs are having on children and their families who need them.