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Wheeling Comfort

The technician who ensures celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair in purring perfection gets £25,000 a year for it.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 03, 2012 21:55 IST
Jaya Shroff Bhalla

The technician who ensures celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair in purring perfection gets £25,000 a year for it.

A programmable infra-red controller attached to the computer system on his chair allows Hawking —who is almost completely paralysed because of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — to not just control the movement of the chair but also of many electronic devices in his home and office, such as the television, computer and automated doors and lights. Most disabled people are not as lucky.

“In India, most people don’t even know the benefits of a custom-made wheelchair,” said Nekram Upadhyay, head of the department of assistive technology at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. “At ISIC, each day we get over 40 new patients with spinal cord injuries and recommend custom-fitted chair to everyone, depending on their need and affordability,”he said. At ISIC, the specialists help arrange for custom-fitted wheelchairs starting from R6,000 all the way up to Rs. 10 lakh.

Tarang Kashyap, 22, who was rendered quadriplegic after a road-accident, was brought to ISIC with all four limbs non-functional.

He uses an ultra-light motorised wheelchair, which cost him R60,000. Although, he moves around with a help, doctors are confident that he will become independent with physiotherapy and practice. Similarly, Suraj Agarwal, 34, who broke his spine (L1) after falling from the terrace, uses a custom-made wheelchair procured at R15,300.

“When I came here 20 days ago, I thought I will never make it out of my bed. This chair has helped get back my independence and confidence,” said Agarwal, who was brought to Delhi on a stretcher from Jalandhar last month.

More people are now going for a customised option. “When we started offering custom-made wheelchairs in 2006-07, only 40% patients opted them. The number has now doubled to at least 80%,” said Upadyay, insisting that a custom made wheelchair can make life dramatically comfortable for a disabled. The wheelchair industry in India is still primarily charitable.

“About 90% products given away for charity are sub-standard and donated without a clinical assessment of the patient,” said Padmaja Kankipati, director-service delivery at specialised mobility operations and innovations (SMOI) — a wheelchair provider start-up.

“Wheelchairs are medical equipment that need to be prescribed by a clinician. A bad-quality one not just hinders the quality of life, but gives the person bed sores and poor posture for the rest of life,”she explained.

In almost all developed countries, most people with severe disabilities live near normal lives. “If the wheelchair is prescribed after assessing a person’s physical ability and disability, his life would get back on track quickly,”said Prashant Singh, managing director, SMOI. “For the kind of wheelchair they use will determine their quality of life,” he said.