12 Mar 2020 An IMU Cares Project: Wheelchair Champions in Motion
“We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
17 January 2020 – In the effort to reach out to the needs of the wheelchair user community, IMU Cares together with Beautiful Gates Foundation was involved in a three-day Wheelchair Training Workshop in Tasputra Perkim. This is a workshop conducted by Wendy and Craig, the wheelchair specialists from the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Charities, an IMU Community partner, working together to provide wheelchairs for those in need in Klang Valley.
The all-day workshop saw IMU staff and alumni embarking on a learning experience with the goal of getting themselves equipped with skills necessary to provide the most appropriate wheelchair to the recipients. This workshop comprising 17 modules includes topics such as pressure relief techniques for wheelchair users, wheelchair assessments and fitting, as well as wheelchair building, assembling and maintenance. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one-size-fit-all wheelchair; wheelchair fitting is vital in preventing pressure injuries.
Under the guidance of Wendy and Craig, participants learned the criteria of selecting the best-suited wheelchair for the users. Wendy, a retired physiotherapist shared her vast experience working with wheelchair users as well as her previous experiences in running wheelchair clinics all-over South-East Asia. Craig shared how LDS Charities worked with local organisations to provide wheelchairs, “In 2018 alone, LDS Charities reached out to 53,800 wheelchair users from 40 countries – and each are individually sized and fitted.”
After an introduction to the training, participants were split into two groups, the Assessors and the Technicians. The Assessors were equipped with skills to prescribe the appropriate wheelchair for users whereas the Technicians were equipped with skills to assemble the prescribed wheelchairs. In both groups, the learning atmosphere was lively and filled with many queries, discussions and ideas.
One of the highlights of the training occurred on Day 2 where participants had to spend an afternoon moving around and weaving through obstacles on a wheelchair independently. Most, if not all, have had a new-found appreciation for their legs and their ability to walk. “It was an experience given to participants for them to empathize with our many wheelchair users – to understand the upper body strength needed to travel even the shortest distance and what’s more going up slopes or traveling on grassy terrains. It also helped participants to understand why most wheelchair users never want to leave their home, even if there are wheelchair-friendly places to visit, which are lacking as well.”
To the delight of many, the training ended with a wheelchair clinic on Day 3, where the enthusiastic participants put their new skills to use, through fitting wheelchair recipients to a new wheelchair. During the clinic, it became clear that there is a dire need for wheelchairs in the community. Broken wheels, rusty frames, missing foot plates and damaged backrest which was hanging by a thread were some of the conditions of the replaced wheelchairs. Not to mention, some recipients were using loaned wheelchair which fitted them poorly.
The journey to a new wheelchair begins with user assessment, followed by prescription to be written by the assessor. Then, a selected type of wheelchair will be assembled by the technicians based on the prescription. Recipients will proceed to try out the assembled wheelchair and a few adjustments may be made. Once the fitting is complete, users will return home with their new and shiny wheelchair. What a joy it was to witness them leaving with a wheelchair they could call their own. Users are also provided with information pertaining to mobility skills, pressure sore prevention and maintenance advice.
Indeed, it was a productive and an eye-opening three-day course. It was a wonderful opportunity for the participants to be able to learn a new skill and do good for the community.
IMU is definitely committed to see this project sustained and thriving. Wheelchair education, maintenance and even running a wheelchair clinic may be in the pipelines in time to come. As much as we yearn to make a difference to the society, our friends with disabilities also deserve to navigate freely as they contribute to the society and we must do our part to allow this to happen. This training was a great stepping stone to reaching that goal.
Author: Dr Jasmin Ng, IMU student alumni and research assistant
Edited by: Dr Goh Ni Kol
Reviewed by: Prof Khoo Suan Phaik