Helping the disabled, for little cost

Stephanie Marchinko can see the value in a class project where the goal is to create a cost-effective tool to help people with disabilities improve their motor skills. Seeing her family spend some $30,000 on a few devices her brother needs to get around will do that.

Stephanie Marchinko can see the value in a class project where the goal is to create a cost-effective tool to help people with disabilities improve their motor skills. Seeing her family spend some $30,000 on a few devices her brother needs to get around will do that.

A second-year student in the Adapted Physical Education diploma program at Red Deer College, Marchinko and 17 of her classmates had to create something practical for instructor Brandi Robinson’s class, and do it for under $5.

For the second year in a row, Robinson instituted the assignment to get her students some practical experience and show them how simple things can serve as substitutes for the far more elaborate, and far more expensive.

Marchinko’s creation could not be much simpler. She took a tennis ball, glued some eyes and a nose on it, and cut a hole for a mouth.

Other balls serve as a reward if the patient can place paper clips in the ball’s mouth.

The whole shebang cost roughly $3.50, and she said it could work just as well as balls that could cost $50 out of a physiotherapy equipment magazine. While her family has received financial support through community organizations to purchase equipment for her brother — $35,000 for two wheelchairs, for example — she has also seen how much her family has spent out of pocket on other expensive items.

“If we paid for everything, we’d be broke,” said Marchinko, 22.

Because of the sometimes huge costs of equipment for people with disabilities, Robinson said adaptations will always be needed.

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists will commonly use things like Styrofoam or duct tape to work with patients, she said.

“Adaptations are made all the time with materials that wouldn’t be conventional materials. It’d be nice to buy beautifully-made things, but that isn’t what families need and that isn’t what’s happening in the community. The real-life world of occupational and physical therapy is all about making things easy and simple,” said Robinson.

“I can show you 10 magazines full of stuff, but no one, unless you’re rich beyond means, has that kind of money.”

Another student creation would allow children who have limited abilities in their legs to skate or scoot around on hardwood flooring.

The team of Karen Hanvold, Regina Bossart, and Brooke Vanwolde got the idea for their ‘Safe Glide’ from the ubiquitous Jolly Jumper.

Their device features a frame made from PVC pipe (acquired through the college’s plumbing department), felt pads on the bottom of the legs and tape on the top, and in the middle is an old pair of jean shorts held up by recycled backpack straps. Technically, it cost the trio nothing at all, and when Vanwolde’s two-year-old niece tested it out, she was able to rip around a hardwood floor just fine.

“We just really wanted to give kids the equal opportunity to skate, just give them a chance to be out on the ice, like everybody else,” said Bossart.

Other creations included a weighted blanket made of beans and plastic bags sewed together, needed for kids with autism, and a glove adapted to allow someone without any grip strength to hold onto a piece of cutlery. Robinson said some of various creations will be provided to a local special needs resource centre, to then be shared with children in the community.

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