Special Programs to Address the Needs of Survivors Grant Solicitation and Management
Mobility India (MI) can be found off a busy street, surrounded by trees and apartment buildings, in Bangalore, India. When MI’s headquarters were built, it was the first accessible building in the country. Every day Mobility India provides rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities in the Karnataka Region. It also trains physical therapists, prosthetists orthotists, community based rehabilitation workers, and wheelchair providers from around the world.
In January 2018, World Learning gathered more than 50 experts at Mobility India's headquarters for the 2018 Wheelchair Stakeholders Meeting. Over the course of four days, they discussed the future of the wheelchair sector, which seeks to provide appropriate wheelchairs—those which are fitted to individual users—to people all around the world.
“[The wheelchair sector] has made a huge difference to the well-being of individuals to have the right wheelchair and for them to live independent and dignified lives.”
Director, Mobility India
World Learning organized the 2018 meeting as part of the USAID-funded Special Programs to Address the Needs of Survivors Grant Solicitation and Management (SPANS/GSM) project. It had been 12 years since wheelchair sector stakeholders had gathered at MI for the Wheelchair Consensus Conference and almost six years since USAID hosted a similar group in Washington, DC in 2012.
Currently, it is estimated that only 10 percent of people who need a wheelchair have access. These meetings are key to strengthening the sector.
“It is a way for the community to evolve, stay up to date with inclusion trends, and continue the evolution of seeing service users as individuals with unique needs who should be given the opportunity to achieve their potential.”
Disability Sport & Integration Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross
At the meeting, the convened group of experts and stakeholders looked at the key investments USAID made in 2012, which were:
The International Society of Wheelchair Professionals, led by the University of Pittsburgh
Consolidating Logistics for Assistive Technology Supply and Provision (CLASP), led by UCP Wheels for Humanity
Global Cooperation on Assistive Technologies (GATE), led by the World Health Organization (WHO)
Before the Wheelchair Consensus Conference occured, traditional donors had been providing wheelchairs to developing countries without proper guidelines on which products to provide and how to provide them safe and effectively. But things have changed. With the development of training packages and wheelchair guidelines, standards have been established.
“People are getting more value than ever before. There is a paradigm shift.”
—Chapal Khasnabis Program Manager, GATE, World Health Organization
DARE Consult, which supports training and mentoring and lobbies all stakeholders to ensure appropriate wheelchair service provision, is one of the organizations that has worked on developing the Wheelchair Service Training Packages (WSTP) led by USAID and WHO. Now DARE is working in line with WHO's GATE initiative to ensure that assistive technology is sufficiently represented and integrated in under- and post-graduate curricula.
“The major highlights since 2012 have been working with a remarkable group of international experts in designing and piloting WHO's Wheelchair Service Training Packages and taking part in their roll out. The enthusiasm has been mind-blowing and certainly is contributing to a uniform and meaningful service approach.”
The group of experts—who hailed from Motivation, Mobility India, the Philippines Society of Wheelchair Professionals, International Committee of the Red Cross, and more organizations from around the world—also shared their successes and lessons learned in the sector’s highest priority areas, including access to training, increasing the donor base, advocacy, credentialing, accrediting, research, and policy adoption.
“In countries like El Salvador, Ukraine, and Nicaragua, we are changing the view of occupational therapists and trainers from minimally respected positions to something they are proud to be, so they can build strong professional networks.”
Occupational Therapist and Trainer
In Georgia, disability and inclusion policies used to be weak. But Coalition of Independent Living Georgia Chairman Giorgi Dzneladze explains that increasing the local production and variety of high-quality wheelchair products “was successful in changing government policies and providing more freedom to wheelchair users.”
“It’s a great feeling to be involved in this meeting.”
Chairman, Coalition for Independent Living Georgia
International organizations shared best practices, approaches, and products to advocate for national governments to integrate into their health programs.
In Tanzania, for example, Motivation Charitable Trust has been engaging the national government to take ownership of wheelchair service provision, as well as improving wheelchair guidelines—an important tool in advocating for users and raising awareness with governments—and developing Wheelchair Service Training Packages.
“It must be a joint movement. No one can make changes without involving others, and I want to see all stakeholders make strides in the sector.”
Gatherings like the Wheelchair Stakeholders Meeting increase access to more appropriate wheelchairs and improves product development and training services by setting standards and priorities for the whole sector.
For example Claude Tardif, representing the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics, spearheads collaboration across the Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O) and wheelchair sectors to make sure P&0 professionals can integrate appropriate wheelchair provision into their work.
“Although the wheelchair community has been siloed in the past, there is much more transparency and integration happening now.”
Executive Board Member, International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics
The 2018 Wheelchair Stakeholders Meeting also came up with a plan to guide the sector moving forward. With this shared foundation of what is happening in the sector, the meeting facilitators guided the experts to identify key priority areas for the next five years: personnel, policy, products, and provision.
The experts also collaborated to articulate the vision, current situation and measurable result for each area, which USAID, other funders, and implementing partners will use in their work going forward.
“A lot can be helped with sensible and groundbreaking design that changes the sector and that’s important in the next five years. Everyone has a slightly different approach, but everybody is trying to achieve the same objective. Seeing that come together has been amazing. We need to keep doing that.”
Founder and Director, Motivation
World Learning looks forward to continuing to work with our partners to ensure a future in which all those who need a wheelchair will have access to one.