United Cerebral Palsy — Wheeling Around the World

Circa 2008

Recently, on a dark and stormy afternoon in Quy Nhon, Vietnam, UCP Wheels for Humanity staff, volunteers and in-country partners custom-fitted wheelchairs for the last of a long line of children with disabilities. Many had been carried on their mothers’ or caregivers’ backs through a category 7 typhoon. Within hours, the children rolled away from the “seating” clinic and into a new phase of independence.

“We held a total of five seating clinics in the Vietnam cities of DaNang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and, of course, Quy Nhon, custom-fitting 275 wheelchairs, including standard, recliners, travel, active, paralympic sports, hand-crank, power chairs and specialized cerebral palsy positioning chairs,” said Ronald Cohen, PhD. who is CEO of UCP Wheels for Humanity, an affiliate of United Cerebral Palsy.

Just a month before, half a world away, in the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, orphaned children with mild to severe disabilities received 300 new wheelchairs to help them get around, play together and make important strides in their lives.

In 2007 alone, UCP Wheels’ delegations traveled to 17 countries and fitted over 4,100 wheelchairs on four continents. But there is still much work to be done to address the urgent global demand.

Upwards of 100 million people worldwide need wheelchairs, but can’t afford them or don’t have access to them. Here in the United States, UCP Wheels for Humanity staff and volunteers put in six days a week, cleaning and refurbishing donated chairs to meet rigorous industry standards. All chairs must pass a quality control inspection before they are packed for shipment.

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“The impact that the UCP Wheels for Humanity mission has on so many children and adults with disabilities around the world never ceases to amaze me,” said Cohen.

“I’ve been on these trips and have seen the transformation in children when they are sitting up straight, able to communicate at eye level, finally playing with their peers and now attending school. These children’s families would never have been able to afford a chair, and this one event changes the lives of not just the child, but the moms and dads, the brothers and sisters. It’s powerful,” Cohen added.

The process begins when the international arm of United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles collects donated wheelchairs and other ambulatory aids from a number of sources, including individuals, local hospitals and clinics, treatment units and home medical equipment dealers.

Donations allow UCP Wheels to provide additional ambulatory-aid and physical-therapy equipment, walkers, commodes, strollers and crutches. These items are shipped, along with the wheelchairs, to UCP Wheels’ in-country partners such as rehabilitation hospitals and clinics.

The in-country partner ushers the wheelchairs and other equipment through customs, stores them until the UCP Wheels’ distribution team arrives to host the “seating” clinic. In-country partners also assist with the physical logistics, the media and the initial contact with those who are to receive the wheelchairs.

When the equipment is ready to be distributed, UCP Wheels’ teams of medical professionals, including physical and occupational therapists and Certified Rehabilitation Technology Suppliers (CRTS) arrive in-country. Most pay their own way and volunteer their time.

The distribution and medical teams set up distribution centers with the assistance of the in-country partner, and begin to fit recipients into their new wheelchairs. UCP Wheels is one of only a few organizations that uses the expertise of volunteer physical and occupational therapists, as well as CRTS to individually custom fit a wheelchair to each person’s size and specific disability.

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Achieving a proper fit requires great techinical skill, and can take more than two hours. These dedicated volunteers often work up to 12 hours a day, while also training in-country medical staff and therapists on correct seating, fitting, positioning and wheelchair adjustments and mechanics.

UCP Wheels’ volunteer medical teams also provide education for parents and caretakers on proper exercises, methods of disassembling a wheelchair for transport and ways to get in and out of the chair, as well as up and down stairs. In addition, the UCP Wheels’ team leaves behind hand and power tools. With this combination of training and practical resources, incountry medical staff are empowered to perform repairs and adjustments on wheelchairs, especially those of growing children.

Since incorporating in 1996, UCP Wheels for Humanity has delivered and custom fit more than 40,000 wheelchairs and thousands of pieces of physical and occupational therapy equipment in 68 countries. UCP Wheels for Humanity receives no government funding, and is financed solely by foundations and the generous contributions of individual donors.

by Brian Miller

With additional reporting by UCP Wheels for Humanity’s

Ronald Cohen, chief executive officer and David Richard, president.

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