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Reprinted from The Citizen. Original article here.
by Rhoda Kadalie
Many do not have access to appropriate wheelchairs and community-based seating support services, especially in under-resourced areas. Poor families have few options and no knowledge of where to obtain appropriate wheelchairs.
Shona McDonald faced similar challenges after her second daughter was born with cerebral palsy. She was unable to find any positive advice or equipment suitable for her daughter; she found that the government could only offer one of three wheelchairs – small, medium or large and as a result of this, she designed and made a wheelchair fitting the specific needs of her daughter.
This was SA’s first battery-powered full body support buggy. McDonald increasingly came into contact with other parents and people with disabilities that asked her to do the same for them. This was how Shonaquip was established in 1992.
Shonaquip is a social enterprise created to improve the quality of life of people living with mobility disabilities in disadvantaged areas. Today there are around 80 different types of wheelchairs on the government tender list compared to the three wheelchair types before McDonald began her work. At present, Shonaquip employs around 70 staff members, 30 of which are people with disabilities. To date they have designed, produced and delivered over 65 000 chairs to needy patients.
All Shonaquip branches are run by dedicated and passionate therapists and seating technicians who specialise in wheelchair fitting, customisation and training in their regions. The occupational therapists and technicians who are fieldworkers hold seating clinics at various schools.
As a result of the therapy offered to each child, Shonaquip has made a tremendous impact on communities and has educated them to be mindful of the needs of children with disabilities, that they can become functional members of society, and need not be relegated to the back of the house or the shack.
Shonaquip does not only work at the community level but also on a national scale.
In partnership with other organisations, they have been instrumental in including the need for posture support and seating as a fundamental part of the national government’s health policy.
Their influence has spread as far as the World Health Organisation for which they have formulated the Guidelines on Wheelchairs for under-resourced countries and to
promote greater access to appropriate wheelchairs by assisting governments to develop and grow proper systems to provide wheelchairs.
The government also contributes to the salaries of the carers and therapists at the seating clinics but during the 2010 World Cup, government froze all wheelchair orders, which resulted in Shonaquip dismissing 35 workers across their operation due to financial constraints.
This made McDonald and her team realise that they needed to look to other revenue streams to ensure their sustainability.
The shortage of appropriate wheelchairs results in unnecessary and costly health and social problems for both the wheelchair users and those caring for them. As a direct result of Shonaquip, there is now broad recognition that people seated properly have fewer medical complications and need less surgical care. This project has become highly effective and efficient and over time the wheelchairs have been adapted to the South African terrain.
Shonaquip is slowly extending its reach beyond South Africa’s borders to neighbouring countries and continues to be innovative in the sense that the design team is now in the process of redesigning its wheelchairs to be flat-packed for export purposes.
Their products are in high demand because custom-made wheelchairs elsewhere in the world are much more expensive.
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