Monday, October 03, 2005

On wheelchairs

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with TVB Group president and Village Bookstore proprietor Danah Fortunato about wheelchair donations of a wheelchair foundation coursed through the local Rotary Groups. The wheelchair foundation is an organization with patently good intentions and received positive publicity in last month's issue of Reader's Digest.

Danah, however, is quite passionately displeased about the wheelchair donations. Why? Because they don't quite fit. wheelchair foundation puts the ubiquitous monobloc chairs on top of a wheeled platform. Now, monobloc chairs, as anyone who has ever sat on them will attest to, are not the most comfortable of seats. They're designed for stacking, and so typically have a fairly wide base. Fair enough for temporary seating, but stay on it for a long while, and.... Well, you get the picture.

So translate that to a child whose frail frame has been ravaged by cerebral palsy, and what do you get?

What's wrong with this picture? The child is not secured. She is too small for the chair. She is so small, in fact, that she could easily fall through the gaps in the backrest.

Contrast this with a proper wheelchair shown below.

See the difference? The proper wheelchair is a snug fit, with cushions and straps. The wheels should be bigger so as to provide a comfortable ride. They should have rims and grips so as to allow the passenger to propel himself forward, if he is so able. They should have proper push handles. And a little colorful decoration doesn't hurt either.

The donations were coursed through the Rotary Clubs of Dumaguete, again, another organization with the means and the good will. However, they also have very little knowledge of physical specifications of proper wheelchairs. Their main function is distribution, and which they did to the different towns in the province.

Danah strongly believes that these types of donations would be better coursed through organizations with the knowledge and the means to modify them into proper wheelchairs. Groups like the Great Physician Rehabilitation Center, for example, who provide physical and occupational therapy for children with disabilities from impoverished families. On the other hand, GPRC's requirements are significantly less than the chairs provided by the wheelchair foundation. And neither does GPRC mass produce wheelchairs as a business.

I'll try not to come to any hasty conclusions or judgments on this matter. In the first place, everyone has come forward with good intentions in this matter, and attempted to solve it within the means given to them. I don't know much about the wheelchair foundation, either, other than what I have read and what's been said.

From what I can tell, the wheelchair foundation aims to provide some basic amount of mobility access to people who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Their monobloc on wheels is the fastest and easiest way of doing so. But it's not a good long-term solution.

If they did design their wheelchairs to standard specifications, they might reach fewer people but ultimately the wheelchairs would be more usable.

There's no point crying over spilt milk, of course. The wheelchairs have been distributed, and I'm sure there are a number of people who are thankful for them. But the benefactors should realize that the chairs are not meant as a real solution and are only a stop-gap measure. And in the future, they should be a little more thoughtful of the gifts that they give, even if they are only the channel.