Millions of disabled children in low-income countries across the globe are in need of wheelchairs. But a wheelchair won’t do much good if the chair doesn’t work well for child’s needs. In the same way, braces or prosthetic limbs are much more effective if we check to see if they function the way the child needs them to. Enter, LETU’s Wheels team — LeTourneau biology and kinesiology students doing research on wheelchair function for children with disabilities in low income settings. Our goal is to improve the lives of people with disabilities by providing feedback on wheelchair and prosthetic function from field studies in less resourced settings.
At LeTourneau, undergraduate students can apply to join the team working with the Wheels project. The exceptional students on this year’s team are working hard to make a difference for disabled people by doing research here at LeTourneau as they prepare to travel to Kenya this summer, where we’re partnering with Bethany Kids Relief and Rehabilitation, which provides rehabilitation to the children at Joy Town Special Primary School for the Disabled in Thika, Kenya. The research and intercultural experience makes a positive impact in many of the students’ lives. You can read some of their comments here.
Recently, Bethany Kids hired an orthotist (brace expert); however he has almost no equipment. He is facing the challenge of trying to take care of 150 kids who need braces without adequate gear! This year we’re continuing to raise funds to provide equipment for a brace shop at Joytown. Last year, the Wheels team took baseline data on the how well students who were using or needed braces were doing, and we were able to raise some funds for equipment. This year we plan to raise additional funds and to do a study to see if the original equipment purchased has caused an improvement. Over three years, we plan to track improvement as we enable more adequate equipment and additional training. We are also planning a follow up study to see how the more than 100 wheelchairs we’ve helped to provide over the last four years are holding up and serving their users.
Our team is raising funds to travel to Kenya in May to collect objective data on how well braces and the wheelchairs are working for the students at Joy Town. The collected data will include feedback from the students, feedback from clinicians on the students’ wellbeing and skills tests that objectively measure how well the students can move.
The research is also making a difference on a global scale. We're partnering with Bethany Kids Relief and Rehabilitation International in Kenya. We’re privileged to work with and give feedback to some of the key providers of wheelchairs around the world, including Motivation, Whirlwind, (APDK), Hope Haven International, Free Wheelchair Missions and Joni and Friends.
The study protocol has been approved by LeTourneau University, Queens University and Bethany Kids Relief and Rehabilitation International, and all appropriate approvals have been obtained including subject consent forms and media consent forms. Letters of approval have been obtained from the Kenyan Ministry of Health.
In the last several years, we’ve conducted studies on eight types of wheelchairs. All of the manufacturers are responding to the results with great interest. It looks like, by God’s grace, our findings are enabling changes that will benefit all the children who will receive these wheelchairs. This year, we will also be continuing research to perfect a questionnaire designed to obtain meaningful feedback from those who use orthotic braces. Our findings so far are summarized on our website at www.letu.edu/wheels. We are planning to present our results at the International Seating Symposium, the RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology) Conference and the International Society for Prosthetics Orthotics.
The doors are wide open for the Wheels project to make a big difference in Kenya and around the world. We’d like to say a big thank you to all who are supporting the Wheels project; it wouldn’t be possible without you!
To learn more about Wheels, contact:
The Wheels project is a low budget enterprise funded largely by donations. With your help we can make a difference to children in wheelchairs at Joy Town and around the world.