When examining the quality of life and overall health and wellbeing of individuals with special needs across the globe, the one common factor that can greatly enhance their survival and quality of life is their access to mobility and assistive devices. The website, eSpecial Needs (www.especialneeds.com) defines mobility aids as “adaptive equipment devices used to increase independent mobility for special needs children and adults with disabilities or are recovering from injury.”
There are many different types of mobility aids that help special needs children in a variety of ways. “Gait trainers help individuals that do not possess the functional gait or posture control to safely use a standard walker. Posture control walkers are designed to make walking more efficient by improving postural alignment. Safety rollers provide maximum support and improved posture for patients with limited hand function or cognizance. Standard walkers are designed for those who rely on additional support because of poor balance and/or decreased body strength. Canes and crutches redistribute weight and increase base support for individuals with lower leg injuries or disabilities. Transfer assists provide less physical demand on the caregiver and safe transfer for the patient” (Source: eSpecial Needs).
Assistive products such as the ones identified above maintain and improve individuals’ functioning and independence, which promotes their health and wellbeing. However, according to the World Health Organization, only 1 in 10 people in need have access to assistive technology (which is an umbrella term used to describe the systems and services related to the delivery of assistive services and products) due to high costs and a lack of awareness, availability, trained personnel, policy, and financing. Without assistive technology, people are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, thereby increasing the impact of disease and disability.
According to the 2017 article, “Assistive Technology in Developing Countries: A Review From the Perspective of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities” from the journal Prosthetics and Orthotics International, research on assistive technologies in low and lower-middle-income countries has received very little attention. The authors, Johan Borg, Anna Lindström, and Stig Larsson, also mention that what little research exists is dominated by research on leg prostheses and manual wheelchairs. This leaves countless other mobility devices off the radar for a lot of people in these countries. It also leaves the children who need these devices at a disadvantage due to their countries’ or caretakers’ lack of adequate knowledge of these devices and possible underestimation of the importance of them.
In contrast, those who are able to obtain these devices for their children are often looking for ones that are “affordable,” which, for them, often means no cost. This poses a huge risk to the children who need them, as the devices might not be as sturdy or regulated as those with a (higher) cost. The article mentions that appropriate assistive technology should meet the user’s needs and environmental conditions; provide proper fit and support; be safe and durable; be available in the country; and be obtained, and services sustained, in the country at the most affordable price. In developing countries without such guidelines or regulations, these can often be overlooked or ignored.
When looking further into accessibility issues surrounding mobility devices and assistive technologies, the chapter “Potentials of Digital Assistive Technology and Special Education in Kenya” from the IGI Global publication Sustainable ICT Adoption and Integration for Socio-Economic Development states that the availability of non-commercial assistive technology is improving. A series of factors is driving this change including the upsurge in commons-based production, the growth of do-it-yourself (DIY) communities, and a spread of accessible and affordable prototyping apparatuses.
It is critical for countries that want to comply with the regulations to have a country-wide plan involving children with needs such as mobility devices. They also need the help of the international community and the manufactures of these products, but without a proper budget, this can be nearly impossible.
According to The World Bank, one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries! When you really think about it, that is a huge number! Adding to this number, The World Bank also notes that one-fifth of the estimated global population total, or between about 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities! Persons with disabilities, on average, are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities. The World Bank also mentions that global awareness of the need for disability inclusion is increasing, which is obviously a good thing. However, we are not yet where we need to be.
Accessibility is key to getting these kids the care and devices they need. The governments of developing countries, as well as developed countries, need to work together with the manufactures of these products to formulate a plan to make them safe and affordable for the children that need them.
Since its inception, the World Forgotten Children Foundation (WFCF) has worked with a number of organizations to ensure that properly fitted mobility apparatus such as wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches are provided to those in need and particularly to young children whose bodies are still growing. For more information on projects that have been funded by WFCF, please visit the WFCF Funded Projects Page.
Postscript: Some of you may remember my name from an earlier article I wrote about my chronic illness, POTS, and how it affects people all over the world and in developing countries! If you haven’t read it, please feel free to take a look at it. My current topic is also something of great interest to me, as some POTS patients also use wheelchairs or other mobility aids (or service animals) to help them get around too!
Borg, J., Lindström, A., & Larsson, S. (2017). Assistive technology in developing countries: a review from the perspective of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Prosthetics and Orthotics International, 35(1), 20-29. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0309364610389351#_i10
eSpecial Needs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.especialneeds.com/shop/mobility.html
Hamidi, F., Owuor, P. M., Hynie, M., Baljko, M., & McGrath, S. (2017). Potentials of digital assistive technology and special education in Kenya. In C. Ayo & V. Mbarika (Eds.), Sustainable ICT adoption and integration for socio-economic development (pp. 125-151). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-2565-3.ch006
World Bank. (n.d.). Disability. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/disability
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Assistive technology. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/assistive-technology