Providing quality assistive technology to the disabled is the objective of the first Indian Seating and Mobility symposium to be held in New Delhi in November

A group of social entrepreneurs are attempting to change how disability is perceived in India by raising awareness in the field of mobility assistive technology. While many clinicians and organisations working in the rehabilitation industry may be aware of the concept of “Seating”, very few are following the best clinical practices. Besides, the technology used in wheeled mobility and accessories is well below par when compared to the western standards. This negatively impacts the quality of life for persons with disabilities along with severe medical complications like deformity of spine, soars and stiffness in limbs to name a few.

As part of their first continuing education initiative, Specialised Mobility Operations and Innovations (SMOI) is hosting the first Indian Seating and Mobility symposium in New Delhi on November 3 and 4. The best clinical practices and technological advancements in wheeled mobility (wheelchair design and selection, clinical assessments, etc.) considered as “Seating” will be the focus of this symposium. This event is being organised in collaboration with the International and European Seating Symposium (ISS and ESS) and in strategic partnership with University of Pittsburgh, Central Remedial Clinic, Dublin and Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi.

The need for quality assistive technology can be illustrated by the fact that an estimated 10 million people have loco motor disability (National Sample Survey 58th round, 2002) and only five per cent of them receive a wheelchair, brace or prosthetic that would allow them to be mobile (study by Disability India). According to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on provision of manual wheelchairs in less resourced settings, in any given population, 0.5 per cent requires Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) devices while one per cent requires a wheelchair. However, in India, using P&O devices and other mobility aids are preferred over wheeled mobility due to the lack of infrastructure, quality of products, training and most of all social stigmas involved.

Service delivery is a key component in providing appropriate mobility assistive equipment (MAE) that meets the physical, functional and environmental needs of a user. Therefore, an effective way of providing mobility solutions is to promote a systematic service delivery process. The WHO guidelines on provision of wheelchairs in less resourced environments highlighted the fact that most people who require a wheelchair do not receive one and those who do receive a wheelchair are given one without a proper evaluation to ensure it is appropriate in meeting their needs. This can lead to abandonment of the device or development of secondary complications that affect the health of an individual.

Speaking about the initiative, Dr. Padmaja Kankipati, Director, Service Delivery and Research & Development, SMOI, said, “India is in stark contrast to other developed countries where people with mobility disabilities were leading fulfilling and independent lives. Although socio-economic factors play a role in the access to good assistive technology, a bigger problem lay with the minimal knowledge related to service provision of mobility assistive technology.”

“There is a need for proper clinical assessment and service delivery when it comes to assistive technology, and unfortunately, in India a large percentage of population is wheelchair bound. By bringing together industry experts, occupational and physical therapists, and assistive technology engineers on one platform, we are hopeful the upcoming symposium will bridge the gap between mobility solutions, industry, and persons with disabilities,” said Nekram Upadhyay from Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.

The symposium is slated to have educational sessions and product exhibits. The objectives of the two-day symposium are to identify and present current mobility and seating device interventions available in India and globally; discuss the current state and future of service delivery practices in India; discuss current state and future goals of policies and funding mechanisms in India; and identify and apply relevant current research in the context of less resourced environments.

The SMOI is a for-profit social enterprise based in Bangalore, started by four individuals. Its objective is to transform the lives of people with mobility disabilities and help integrate them into the mainstream.

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