JKUAT Donates Customized Wheelchairs to Persons with Disabilities

A wheelchair beneficiary tries out his new mobility device

Researchers from the Department of Rehabilitative Sciences at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in collaboration with Technologists from the College of Engineering and Technology (COETEC, JKUAT) and Latter-Day Saints Charities (LDSC, USA) issued life-changing wheelchairs to 19 people with disabilities.

The beneficiaries who were identified and mobilized by JKUAT’s Directorates of Gender and Disability Mainstreaming as well as Extension and Community Outreach, went through an assessment process to ensure that they received custom-fit mobility devices that fit in with their needs.

The donation exercise, led by Dr. Mwangi Matheri, Dr. Wallace Karuguti and Dr. Daniel Kariuki, took place on Thursday, August 24, 2023, and was preceded by a two-day refresher training course on The Wheelchair Service Training Package ­Basic level to participants who included Physiotherapists, Engineers, and Occupational Therapists from JKUAT Hospital, Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE), Thika Level 5 Hospital, and Ufanisi Rehabilitation Centre, among others.

The training package was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in order to inject the minimum skills and knowledge required by personnel involved in wheelchair service delivery, thus enabling them to deal with patients who can sit upright and do not require postural support.

This initial distribution phase sets in motion a three-year project called Wheelchair Service Model Kenya (WSMK), where JKUAT in partnership with the Ministry of Health Kenya (MoH), Motivation Kenya Trust, and AIC Child Care Centre, Kajiado aims to lessen some of the difficulties faced by wheelchair users in Kenya.

According to Dr. Matheri, the project lead, wheelchair users, especially in developing countries, face a myriad of challenges. JKUAT is therefore committed to promoting social inclusion and participation through provision of wheelchairs as an act of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Patient undergoes assessment to determine the appropriate wheelchair

“The need for wheelchairs in this country is immense, and I wish to thank our partners for supporting this project because it aligns with Article 20 of the Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which advocates for effective measures to ensure personal mobility for persons with disabilities through access to affordable devices and training in mobility skills to staff, caregivers and the patients.”

The elated beneficiaries, who were taken through assessment, prescription, fitting, maintenance and user training, expressed their heartfelt appreciation to JKUAT and partners for a new lease of life through the customized wheelchair which is designed to traverse the rough, outdoor terrain that many of them must deal with on a daily basis.

Carol*, who suffers from diabetes had her leg amputated after an injury from a nail failed to heal. She subsequently lost her job and was fully dependent on her daughter who had to leave her marital home and temporarily move in with her. She said she only came to JKUAT to try her luck although she did not expect to get a wheelchair based on numerous disappointing experiences in the past. She celebrated her new device given that she can now actively participate in the community and can now engage in business and earn her living.

For Michael*, even though he was able-bodied, his engineering background had always inspired him to modify his surroundings, including his home, to accommodate disabled people. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of what was to come. He developed Multiple Sclerosis, which gradually weakened him and impeded his ability to walk. He was given a foldable wheelchair, that will enable him to commute and earn a living as needed.

The wheelchair donation exercise was also a moment of delight and freedom for the caregivers given that their burden had been lessened.

JKUAT Engineers (from left) David Chitayi, George Kamau and Fred Amira (2nd right) together with Boyd Wagstaff a technical trainer from Utah State University

Jane*, a mother of a 16-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, is unable to find work because caring for her child is a full-time job that no one wants to do. This, combined with the high cost of adult diapers, had taken its toll on her. Receiving this wheelchair meant that she can now carry her daughter to a shop, which she plans to operate right outside her home.

Betty* also a caregiver to one of the beneficiaries, who suffers from a neurological condition, explained that this donation would empower the young man whose business had come to a halt six months back. He can now buy goods at the market, then distribute them thus reducing transportation costs, which will improve his economic and social status.

The donation exercise included a post-assessment day which provided an opportunity for the professional participants and JKUAT students undertaking degree studies in physiotherapy to discuss the lessons learnt, and evaluate the distribution process, in order to inform any design adjustments and improve future activities.

The students, who interacted with the different practicing professionals had a chance to not only learn first-hand how to deal with patients suffering from spinal injuries, but also the important aspect of community engagement, whose emphasis on utilizing the social networks among persons living with disabilities was reiterated.

In dealing with patients who are also deaf, Dr. Karuguti said it was important for all clinicians to know sign language, which is now a requirement by the Kenyan government and all hospitals must have a physiotherapist who knows sign language.

He added that it is important to learn how to integrate and use modern screens in consultation rooms. This can aid effective interactions between the doctor and the patient.

The four-day workshop, held at JKUAT’s College of Health Sciences on August 22 – 25, was intended to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to assistive devices that improve their lives and contribute to the country’s growth.

This project intends to allocate more wheelchairs in the near future through a priority-based system that will be accessible to the entire country.

A section of the Basic Level Wheelchair Training participants

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