Crafting ease and mobility

Venkateshwaramma, a resident of Prakasam district, Andhra Pradesh, was diagnosed with polio at a young age, and as she grew up, she was unable to move independently and found it difficult to perform her everyday tasks. But, today, because of the assistive devices and prosthetics, she is able to lead a life of self-reliance and independence. She is among the over six million people in India who require some form of a prosthetic or orthotic device. One of the organisations that helps the physically challenged people by providing prosthetics is Mobility India(MI) in Bengaluru, where Venkateshwaramma has been working for the last 14 years as a faculty member. 

She was not only provided with assistive devices for her condition but also given training in prosthetics and orthotics, by this non-profit entity. As a result, she isable to help more people and serve as a role model to them. The organisation has a team of 126 members, of which 67 are women. 

Lack of awareness

Assistive technology and devices comprise walking sticks, crutches, wheelchairs, artificial limbs, etc. The awareness about this technology, its role, uses and availability for physically challenged and elderly, is inadequate. People don’t know whom to approach when they have mobility issues. When in need of assistance while walking, the elderly are given an ordinary walking stick. People are unaware that a variety of sticks are available based on the individual needs, activity, age and environment. It is vital that the right device is used to prevent any further injury. 

“Though assistive technology has expanded and mobility devices like walking aids, crutches, prosthetics and orthotics are easily available, people are still not aware as to whom they should approach when a person needs such devices,” says Ritu Ghosh, deputy director, MI.    

 “Mostly, after a surgery and a session of physiotherapy, patients are prescribed assistive devices without any rehabilitation,” she adds. MI has a green backyard where the user, after initial training is made to practice on steps, ramps and rough areas depending on what type of adaptability is required for the patients. For children, there is a park with several types of playing equipment so that they can easily get attuned to their environment. “At times, one person needs more than one device. I have been using a modified scooter, wheelchair, crutches and orthoses,” says Jaya V Jaycodi, a manager, at MI. 

Though there is a huge demand for assistive devices from a variety of people, there are very few professionals who can provide sound rehabilitation services. There are only 14 institutes in India offering courses in Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O). The maximum intake for these programmes is 265 per year. It is estimated that India has over 2,000 P&O professionals, and of these only 848 are registered with the apex body, Rehabilitation Council of India, and are actively involved.  

 MI is the first institution in South India to conduct a Bachelors course in P&O, of four-years with a six-month internship. It includes medicine, pharmacology, computer science, mechanics, electronics and other subjects. MI has tied up with IISc and IITs for conducting research in assistive technology where prosthetists and engineers work together to test the products. They are connected with clinical trials, research and work on new techniques to deliver the benefits of assistive devices to the people.

From scratch

Interestingly, MI has its own fabrication unit where treatment planning, designing, manufacture and fitting of artificial limbs and braces are done. A majority of the employees here are women and many with an experience of mobility challenges. ‘‘By employing physically challenged people, we are able to understand the issues better and cater to them,’’ says Ritu.

 MI also has a Jaipur foot production section which is managed entirely by women who have mobility issues. Daya, who heads the section, uses an assistive device known as bilateral orthoses. She underwent training in Jaipur foot production at MI.

“Assistive devices enabled me to lead a healthy, productive and dignified life,” she says. Akkamma, who was using a heavy metal assistive device, which was very uncomfortable, benefitted from modern technology that provided her with a lightweight device. “Presently, I fabricate devices for other people with disabilities. It is because of the new technology that I am able to lead a better and independent life,” she says.

Considering the utility of these devices, there is a need to make them available widely and at affordable prices. MI focuses on this area and ensures that people from a low-income background also get the devices. “We provide assistive equipment at a subsidised rate for those who can’t afford it,” says Ritu.

For more information, contact 080 26492222 or log on to www.mobility-india.org.

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