How a Power Wheelchair Opened Up One Boy’s World

Owen and his brother, Drew, at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.

The world has opened up for an 8-year-old boy with the help of a joystick.

Owen Moffitt is from rural Glenarm. He has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or speak. For most of his young life, he has used a manual wheelchair. His parents, Janelle and Steve Moffitt, often pushed him where he needed to go.

A second-grader at Ball Elementary School in Chatham, Owen grew steadily frustrated because he couldn’t go where he wanted on his own or clearly communicate what he wanted others to know.

That changed when Memorial Home Services helped Owen’s family get a power wheelchair and install a communication device, both controlled by the same joystick, to help him become more independent.

Owen received the power wheelchair around the beginning of first grade. The family had tried out a demo in the school’s gymnasium, and Owen “did really well in it,” Janelle said.

“He was ecstatic. He acted just like a kid should,” said Rob Kavish, a wheelchair rehab specialist with Memorial Home Services. “He had been used to everyone pushing him around, and now he could do what he wanted to do and make decisions for himself.”

As Owen mastered the wheelchair, Memorial Home Services worked with Owen’s family to mount the communication device about six months later. It’s similar to a laptop, and Owen can use the same joystick that propels the wheelchair to choose the words or images on the screen that he wants the computer to say. Memorial Home Services provided the technology that lets the joystick be used in that way, as well as to communicate with his school’s computers.

Owen is now able to go outside and play with his 5-year-old brother, Drew, and see his dad on the family’s farm.

“He’s even able to open the door and go outside by himself,” his mom said.

Janelle said her son is communicating one or two words at a time.

“We are definitely still learning,” she said, noting that the program will allow him to string full sentences together as he masters it.

The technology has already made a difference. When the family goes out to eat, Owen is able to order for himself. And at school, he can answer teachers’ questions, talk to other students and let teachers know what he wants or needs.

The technology has “made him a much happier boy,” Janelle said. “He feels more independent and has more freedom.”