In 1990, Quest started a revolution in walking training for children with cerebral palsy by introducing the Kaye Posture Control Walker to Europe. Otherwise known as the Kaye Walker, this piece of assistive technology enabled children and young adults to achieve a more upright posture whilst learning to walk, making the ‘swing’ phase of gait (walking), easier to achieve. Until this point, conventional rollators were the order of the day which required more time supporting the user’s weight through the handles rather than walking and at the same time users had to adopt something of a stooped posture as they reached forward for the handles which were in front of them.
So, what was new about the Kaye Walker back in the 90s?
Rob Henshaw, Quest’s managing director shares the history of this life-changing device. The first thing that struck people was that it was backwards! The frame actually went around the rear of the person using it, with the hand positions at the users’ side. The front was therefore open for access to a desk, or a ball, or a brother, sister or friend.
All of a sudden, the barrier had gone, both the physical one and, as it would soon be discovered, the social one as well. If you imagine parallel bars that you would see in a rehab gym, but now on wheels, then you generally get the idea of the Kaye Walker and how it improves posture. Add wheels to the picture and you have something which not only improves posture and walking function, but also includes a dramatic improvement in walking rhythm. In a rollator you push the apparatus away and you catch up and so on but the Kaye Walker moves with you.
In the first 10 years, the Kaye Walker was primarily used in rehab gyms for walking training, however, its ease of use led to it being used every day and in all kinds of environments. We started to see more and more photos of the Kaye Walker in use, some showing the walker being used in the sea, on ice rinks and on the athletics track. It was becoming apparent that the walker was not just transforming walking training in physio sessions but it was also transforming lives and creating independence for these children by giving them more time on their feet rather than being in their wheelchair or buggy most of the time. I cringed at many of these photos, such as the children using walkers on the ice, because at the time I was the person responsible at Quest for managing product safety and medical devices and ice skating was certainly not on our list of ‘intended uses’. At the same time, I smiled and began to see just how revolutionary the Kaye Walker had become.
The Kaye Walker has now been in the UK for 30 years and is just about to go through a significant facelift including the release of new colours and accessories. It’s hard to improve on a winning format, for example, the frame geometry and safety of the walker have not been improved on, despite many people trying. There are six sizes and that is important, as each size needs to be proportionate in weight and size for the child using it, as they use this equipment for many hours each day.
Over the last five years the Kaye Walker concept has opened up new possibilities for children and young adults through the introduction of the Gameframe which takes advantage of the open front aspect of the frame. It became apparent several years ago, that children were pushing their own boundaries further and further and I began to see children using their Kaye Walker for football, volleyball and tag rugby. I concluded that what was needed was a range of walkers that were specifically designed for sport and which had different characteristics depending on the sport in a similar way to there being different wheelchairs for tennis and basketball for example. So at Quest we came up with the Gameframe.
The Gameframe is basically a wider frame, in the case of the football version, the “Kick”. We worked with several clubs and universities to adapt the original Kaye Walker concept, adding width for trapping and kicking the ball and allowing the ball to roll through if missed, to assist with continuity of the game. The frame is stronger to cope with a bit more rough and tumble than the Kaye Walker and it can be finished in your favourite team colours. Frame football is fast growing in the UK and in places like Japan, Malaysia, South America and Malta. The FA and IFCPF (International Federation for CP Football) have also ratified the rules taking into consideration the needs and abilities of players with cerebral palsy
Another great thing is that children who may have found physio routines a chore in the past are now far more engaged, as not only do the new routines benefit their development, they now make them a better footballer or rugby player. The APCP, Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists have even created a sequence of football related physio routines that bring physio and football together.
Little did we know that 30 years ago, when we started our family business that this piece of equipment would be so life changing for so many children in the UK and around the world. We look forward to seeing it transform many more lives in the future not just in terms of physio and rehab but also through a widening array of frame sports and activities.