Representatives from the IEEE Malaysia Section supported humanitarian efforts by designing and developing a cost-effective upper extremities rehabilitation system which includes an interactive element and other smart features for children with movement disorders such as Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity. The smart features of the system incorporate a real-time display of the physical parameters to be observed in the rehabilitation of these children, as proposed by therapists, including cranking speed and force exerted. This real-time display is then supplemented with animation in order to encourage continued movement of the limbs.
The idea first originated when it became apparent that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were in need of an affordable and accessible physical rehabilitation system for children, since most of these centers only have adult-sized equipment. In addition, these NGOs are primarily funded by public donations and, as such, operate with limited financial resources. This means that provisions for such equipment are essentially out of reach to them.
The Malaysia Section, comprised of several enthusiastic engineers, came up with a homemade solution that could be offered free of charge to two centers in particular: the Spastic Children’s Association of Selangor & Federal Territory (SCASFT) and the Home for Special People, Cheras. The goal of the project was not only to aid physically challenged children, especially those between the ages of two and seven, but also to provide a great outreach opportunity for both high school and university students to make a social contribution to communities in need.
The key stakeholders in the project were IEEE student volunteers, teachers, NGO caretakers, physiotherapists and other personnel from the rehabilitation center, and the children themselves with assistance from their parents. In addition, Dr. Chern, a child rehabilitation specialist from the Kuala Lumpur Rehabilitation Hospital, contributed to the cause by providing the team with input and vital knowledge of rehabilitation. Ms. Tay Ee Lin, a professional psychologist, also assisted in offering her expert opinions on the motivational and psychological aspects of rehabilitation. The students involved in the project all came from diverse backgrounds, including Biomedical Engineering, Mechatronics Engineering, Early Childhood Education, and Physiotherapy.
The team worked together through weekly meetings, project discussions, technical visits to the NGOs, and various training workshops to design the mechanical properties and structure of the hand-cycle as a collective group. It is anticipated that three more prototypes will be developed by the project team and commissioned to the NGOs by December of 2016.
According to project leader Chong Yu Zheng, this endeavor has greatly reinforced the spirit of volunteerism. In order to gain more exposure, the group created an official website and Facebook group to attract other volunteers and experts who may be interested in assisting with the project.
“The group has grown from a mere few IEEE volunteers,” she said. “Currently it has about 30 volunteers ranging from students to various parties that are interested in championing these causes. Knowledge sharing to this group of volunteers is vital in motivating them to contribute to this cause, and to influence their peers to contribute to similar humanitarian efforts.”
As Zheng maintains, utilization of social media is absolutely essential in engaging current and future volunteers. It also encourages feedback by providing an open forum for discussion, where ideas can easily be exchanged.
With the ever-increasing number of volunteers, it won’t be long before disabled children and their parents will start to experience a tremendous improvement in terms of quality of life. The prototypes that have been designed, as well as those that will be designed in the near future, certainly offer such families a glimmer of hope that children with movement disorders will be able to lead independent lives and become fully integrated members of society.
According to Mansour Alawi, Biomedical Engineering Student Volunteer, “Our project is a step towards a new era for rehabilitation systems that shorten the distances and cut the boundaries between patients and the specialists.”