Walk the talk

Walk the talk

Walk the talk

Prostheses means artificial limbs and orthoses mean braces, supports and accessories for people with loco-motor handicap — those who cannot fully move their limbs. Each device is custom-designed to suit an individual’s requirements, to compensate – to some extent –  the loss of locomotion. Prosthetic and Orthotic Engineers design and fabricate such devices. This field is uncommon. People tend to drift into it by circumstance, not choice.

India has the largest number of polio victims in the world and the largest number of endemic cases each year. India also has the largest number of automobile accidents per million vehicles, a large number of industrial accidents and the largest number of leprosy patients who, though cured, are left with damaged limbs. Consequently, there is a significant population of people in the country who are loco-motor impaired. These people require prostheses or orthoses in order to lead a normal life. For this purpose, engineers and technicians design devices.

For students who are interested in working with handicapped persons this is a great career.

Prostheses and orthoses range widely in concept and design. It can mean a simple walking stick or an elaborately complex, automatic wheelchair used by paraplegics.

An example is the wheelchair used by Stephen Hawking, the famous scientist, who suffers from the Lou Gehring disease. This has affected his movement as well as his voice. But Hawking can operate his wheelchair with his finger and “talk” by typing sentences on a laptop fixed to the wheelchair, which synthesises the typed sentences into voice. Hawking has contributed a lot to science in spite of being confined to a wheelchair.

The prosthetic and orthotic engineer studies the handicap of a particular patient and then designs a device most suitable for him.

He takes careful measurements, analyses the types of motion possible, and designs a device for that particular patient. He also keeps in mind the cost of the device (whether the patient can afford it) and physical growth of the patient if he is a minor. The engineering activity also includes training the patient in the use of the device and even counselling the patient.

Prosthetic and orthotic engineering covers different disciplines such as mechanical, electronics, electrical, polymer technology, etc. The engineer is more concerned with the melding of different disciplines while making a useful device rather than with the details of each component of the device.

Where can I work?

Students with the right qualifications can work in companies manufacturing prostheses and orthoses.

They can also find employment in rehabilitation centres, hospitals and medical centres as well as academic institutions where the subject is taught.

Qualifications

There are certificate, diploma, degree and post-graduate degree courses offered by different institutions.

Eligibility for certificate, diploma and degree courses: 10 + 2 with physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics.

Usually, institutions insist on a six-month internship followed by a degree – the student learns the practical aspects of the course this way. The Rehabilitation Council of India regulates all education in this field.

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