The latest instalment of the Big Life Fix on the BBC was a Children in Need special; focusing on a number of children with various disabilities. It was fascinating to see the designers and engineers come up with such brilliant ideas to help the children feel included amonsgt their peers.
We saw twins Ayala and Caira who were born prematurely at only 25 weeks. Ayala now has severe cerebral palsy. Her mother described her as being 'trapped in her own body' as she is extremely bright but cannot walk, move her arms independently and has little control of her hands. She steers her wheelchair by herself using buttons with her head. The team wanted to design a way in which both twins can play together without Ayala watching her twin sister from the sidelines.
The team developed a robot which could be controlled via an app; Caira used a handheld device whereas Ayala controlled the device linked to the buttons pressed with her head. After weeks of planning and testing, the girls were finally able to play with their robots together; racing and driving around the living room floor.
Hannah Bottomley, clinical negligence solicitor at Potter Rees Dolan, said:
For children with disabilities as significant as Ayala’s, it is difficult for them to keep up and join in with their peers and nowhere is this more evident than within a home setting with their siblings. I absolutely loved this programme as it highlighted the difficulties faced by children with disabilities whilst focusing on possible solutions to help them overcome them. The main focus of the programme was on play which was fantastic as it is too easy to focus on a disabled child’s therapeutic needs, but play can be a hugely influential factor in socialising and learning which I felt was shown here.
Having supported families in the past who have had twins with one twin being effected by cerebral palsy and the other not, I understand how important the simple act of enabling the twins to play together, on an equal footing is and I think the impact this APP will have on the whole family’s life cannot be overstated.
Not only that, but the Big Fix team also designed a drawing machine for Ayala to use. Using the same device but a different app, she was able to draw some pre-programmed shapes and designs as well as move the pen up and down and draw her own images.
Giving her the ability to draw means both twin sisters were able to doodle away happily together without their mum to have to help out and supervise as much.
The programme also featured another young girl called Aman who suffered a brain injury when she and her family were involved in a road traffic accident whilst in India for a family wedding. As a result of the accident, Aman had to learn to walk and talk again. As with many people with an acquired brain injury, her memory has been affected and she also suffers from a tremor in her arm. With her memory difficulties, Aman struggles to keep up at school, particularly listening to instructions from her teacher.
The Big Fix team spent time with Aman in the classroom and eventually developed a device which recorded what her teacher was saying; both as a video and in text form, allowing Aman to 'bookmark' the session and rewind to remind herself what task she was given in class.
Previously relying on a Teaching Assistant for help, Aman was then able to listen and learn independently in the classroom with the help of the 'StudySparks' app. She said she felt like this app was now acting as her teaching assistant.
Amy Wilmott, personal injury solicitor at Potter Rees Dolan, said:
The developments that are being made in technology for people with disabilities and brain injury is tremendous and is an area that is constantly evolving.
It’s important for us as lawyers to keep an eye on these developments to ensure that our clients are receiving the best possible rehabilitation available.
Only this week I attended UKABIF’s 9th Annual Conference, where a talk was given on how virtual reality is now playing an increasing part in rehabilitation and the results were outstanding. Long may funding into these areas continue.
Not only were the Big Fix team able to help Aman in the classroom, but they also created an interactive website where Aman's family members were able to upload photos with a recorded voice message to accompany the photos.
She was then able to look through the photos, listen to the description of where the photo was taken and when it was taken to then rebuild memories with the help of the app. She said: "I'm remembering things just from seeing the picture; it expands in my brain to a whole other world of what I can remember about that single picture."
You can still catch the Big Life Fix Children in Need special here on the BBC iPlayer; we'd highly recommend it!