Why is mobility important?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally more than 1 billion people have a disability, with 80 percent of those people living in less-resourced countries. WHO further estimates that 70 million people around the world need wheelchairs for mobility. Without mobility, people with disabilities (PWD) are less likely to attend school, will have fewer employment opportunities and have far higher rates of poverty and poor health.
We couldn’t find the right ones, so we made our own!
Most wheelchairs are designed and manufactured for the high-income market, meaning that the cost and functionality do not meet the needs of individuals in less-resourced countries. As a result, UCP Wheels designed and manufactures two wheelchairs - the adult Expression, and the pediatric Liberty. Our wheelchairs have easily replaceable parts, are adjustable and are built to endure unpaved roads, humid temperatures and inaccessible spaces.
Visit our PRODUCTS page for more information.
So, it’s about getting people wheelchairs, right?
Yes and no. It’s actually about providing appropriate wheelchairs.
When it comes to wheelchairs, fit matters. Most wheelchair users spend a minimum of 8-10 hours per day in their chair. A properly fitting wheelchair helps a person feel more comfortable, breathe and eat easier, and interact more with his or her environment.
People from less-resourced countries frequently rely on donations or charitable services, which often focus on provision of large quantities of hospital-style wheelchairs designed for temporary use. Similar scenarios are common in disaster response programs. These wheelchairs are not adjustable, generally do not come with cushions, and are often not appropriate for the user or their environment. Worse still, a poorly fitted wheelchair can cause secondary health complications like pressure ulcers, or even lead to premature death.
El Salvador: Romina’s Story
Born with spina bifida, Romina might easily have spent her life on the sidelines. Although she has a devoted family who were able to get her a wheelchair, it was far too big, meaning she was unable to reach the wheels or move around independently.
Fortunately, a clinician at a local rehabilitation center close to where Romina lives in El Salvador, had received training from UCP Wheels for Humanity staff. Using a Liberty pediatric wheelchair, manufactured by UCP Wheels, he custom fit it specifically for Romina, enabling her to sit comfortably, reach the wheels and move around on her own.
Romina was the first wheelchair user to enroll at her school, where her joyfulness and charisma quickly made her one of the most popular kids in class. Known throughout her community as simply, La Reina (Queen), Romina now loves to dance, act and take part in local parades. A second child who uses a wheelchair has enrolled at Romina’s school, and the local mayor has found funding to make the town more accessible to wheelchair users - including paving the road outside Romina’s home.
At the tender age of 6, Romina has had a more positive impact on her community than many people do in a lifetime - breaking down barriers and challenging perceptions that keep many people with disabilities excluded from society.
Why isn’t it enough to just give a person a properly fitted wheelchair?
Wheelchair users need training so they can learn how to use their chair safely and effectively. With no training, it’s a little like asking someone to drive a car when they’ve never had a driving lesson. Wheelchair users need to understand how to maintain their chair, how to transfer themselves safely to and from their chair, and how to prevent pressure ulcers, which can develop into life threatening infections - a primary cause of death among wheelchair users.
And just like cars, there are also many types of wheelchairs, with many accessories. Trained personnel are essential for ensuring the wheelchair user receives the chair that best suits their individual needs. Research shows that without proper fitting and maintenance, wheelchairs are often abandoned, of little benefit or, at worst, actually harmful to the user.
What type of training do we provide?
We have a variety of training courses including:
- Training physical therapists and rural health workers in two Wheelchair Service Training Packages (Basic and Intermediate) that emphasize eight critical steps for appropriate wheelchair services. These service packages are based on the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for the Provision of Wheelchairs in Less Resourced Settings.
- A Training of Trainers course to educate qualified trainers to deliver the Wheelchair Service Training Packages in their local communities.
- Wheelchair skills and maintenance training for users and their caregivers.
- Certified wheelchair technician training to provide sustainable service support for wheelchair users.
- Evidence-based physical therapy training to improve clinical capacity in less-resourced settings.
Indonesia: Susila’s Story.
Susila contracted polio as a child, which left him with severe disabilities. As a pre-teen, he was thrilled to receive a wheelchair - except that it was an adult-sized chair, made for temporary use. To reach the wheels and move himself, Susila had to contort his body to grab the rear tire with his left hand, and then reach down with his right hand to grab the front right caster. As result of doing this day in and day out, his spine twisted permanently. Now he has a range of skeletal and muscular problems, compounded by related organ and digestion issues.
Remarkably, none of this has stopped Susila from living an active life. Since 2010, he’s participated in the annual Bali Wheelchair Marathon, winning the event in 2016. The prize was a custom marathon racing wheelchair and a sum of money, which he spent on a three-wheeled motorbike that allows him to travel independently to his job as a mural painter.
For daily life, Susila uses a chair manufactured by UCP Wheels called the Expression - a lightweight, durable, easily transportable chair that has a sleek look that appeals to young, active-users like Susila. UCP Wheels trains therapists to custom-fit chairs for exact body size, physical and environmental needs.
Had he had access to a custom-fitted, high quality chair like the Expression sooner, it is likely that many of Susila’s secondary health conditions would not have occurred. But Susila is focused on the future not the past. He’s a participant in Wheelchair Users Voice, a research study being conducted by UCP Wheels in Indonesia and Nicaragua that tracks how and when PWDs are using their wheelchairs. And Susila is an advocate for disability rights. “I want the government to make Bali’s public transportation accessible to wheelchair users,” he says. “Currently, there are many wheelchair users who really can’t go anywhere.”
Disability rights are human rights
The right to be recognized as a person before the law is one of the most basic and fundamental human rights. With the 2006 adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), persons with disabilities (PWDs) are now better supported to realize their human rights.
There are still many reasons, including environmental and cultural barriers, that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in economic and social life. As a result, PWDs often have lower living standards and higher rates of poverty because they are excluded from educational and employment opportunities. The World Bank estimates that 80-90% of PWD in less-resourced countries are unemployed, and UNESCO estimates that as many as 90% of children with disabilities do not attend school. Additionally, PWD often face social stigma, leaving them excluded or severely restricted from participating in their communities.
What kind of advocacy work do we do?
In collaboration with people with disabilities, we work closely with governments at local and national levels to build sustainable health systems that better serve the needs of PWDs. Our work includes initiatives that:
- Integrate the provision of wheelchairs and other assistive devices into health and insurance systems.
- provide the necessary products and training to health personnel to make sure that equipment can be provided safely and sustainably.
- strengthen the rehabilitation sector, and the provision of wheelchair services to create and enforce standards for care and protocols for services.
- partner with institutions of Higher Education to improve the provision of service provision globally, and explore how technology can increase opportunity and independence for people with disabilities.
Our efforts have been recognized through our accredited membership to the Conference of States Parties to the UNCRPD.
Indonesia: Sri’s Story
At the age of 23, Sri was in an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her family, hoping that her spinal cord injury could be cured, sent her to medicinal healers, a common practice in Indonesia. She lived in the jungle for 7 months, until she returned to her parents home, malnourished and near death. Resigned to the permanence of her injury, she did not leave home for the next 12 years.
Then, in 2007, as part of a wheelchair clinic in Solo, Indonesia, UCP Wheels delivered Sri a wheelchair, and her first taste of independence. Shortly thereafter, she received a modified motorcycle from a local agency, which gave her the ability to travel longer distances. Emboldened by the opportunity to be employed, Sri began working with people with disabilities, volunteering with visually impaired students and injured earthquake victims.
In 2008, UCP Wheels started a program in Indonesia and seeing Sri’s enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and empathy, hired her as a social worker, her first paid job since her accident 16 years prior. Today Sri uses her modified motorcycle to visit clients throughout the region and draws on her experience as a wheelchair-user to identify and support UCP Wheels clients.
Sri has also become a vocal advocate and spokesperson for disability rights. To demonstrate the capabilities of people with disabilities, she has ridden her modified motorcycle over 900 miles across Indonesia in a ‘Journey to Inspire’ that was covered extensively by the Indonesian media. Along the way, she met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, to discuss the pressing need for wheelchairs, accessible spaces, and most of all, support within the healthcare system for the 2.5 million people with disabilities in Indonesia.
Why is mobility about more than just a wheelchair?
Receiving a properly fitted wheelchair and appropriate therapeutic training is just the beginning. Through our programming we aim to break down barriers and create opportunities for full inclusion and participation in society, so that wheelchair users are empowered to fully express themselves.