Early this year, Kayalvizhi, a homemaker from Puducherry, brought home a bright green custom-made chair for her 7-year-old son Hariharan with cerebral palsy. For Hariharan, a student of Satya Special School, the chair meant being able to sit up straight as opposed to lying supine at home. “He likes it, it makes him feel taller. Now since children can’t be sent to school, where they get to use the Cerebral Palsy (CP) chair, this cardboard chair comes handy,” she tells TNM.
For children with cerebral palsy coming from rural areas, it is rare for their families to be able to afford special furniture that helps them with their posture. “A number of children with cerebral palsy in our school come from rural areas. There are about 120 of them below the age of 12. And they need very specific furniture that can help them while sitting, eating, etc. Otherwise, for lack of financial resources and knowledge on where to procure such equipment, they are just lying in one corner of the house because of their body structure,” points out Chitra Shah, Satya Special School’s Director.
The school in Puducherry has been successfully making available an economically viable and effective posture-correction chair for its students with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, since 2018.
“A CP chair for children whose head is not fixed could cost anywhere between Rs 4000 to Rs 5000. And this furniture will have to be changed as they grow, sometimes they need one every year. It becomes difficult even for children who come from well-off families. It is important to have such chairs during their growing up years,” she tells TNM.
“We have those equipment here in school and we help them use it but when they go back home, their posture gets modified once again. We were thinking of how to prevent this cycle from happening,” she adds.
That was when the school tied up with Physionet UK, an organisation that procures and distributes refurbished physiotherapy and mobility equipment from the UK to other parts of the world. “At that point they were working on Appropriate Paper-based Technology (APBT or APT) in Africa. They held workshops for us here to train our people on how to do it,” Chitra says.
Appropriate Paper-based Technology makes use of old cardboard boxes and thick sheets of cardboard to make furniture using a specific technique so that the end result comes with excellent durability and weight-bearing capacity.
“It is all done scientifically, by simply placing them using a unique technique. It comes with great weight-bearing capacity since the sheets are pasted together using glue to make it stronger. In the end we use varnish to make it water-resistant. We also decorate the chair to make it the child’s favourite,” Chitra explains.
All put together costs them around Rs 700 to 800 per chair. “And they also last long. From about 10 to 12 months even,” she adds.
Mohan, who has been working at the school for the past ten years has been making these furniture. “It takes about 3 to 4 days to make one chair. When we glue cardboard sheets together using maida paste (gondhu), it becomes as hard as wood. We then let it dry for a day and then cut it according to measurements,” he explains.
So far the school has done 40 such chairs and 20 standing frames using APT. “We have tied up with local manufacturers and industries. This is their waste and we are up cycling it. We also convert cut cardboard into toys. We also make standing frames that hold children stand, stools for mothers to sit…” she adds.
And the main reason why the school has been able to successfully sustain it is attributed to its team. “One is, our raw material is coming in cheap. Secondly, we have some adult students, with special needs, trained on how to make these chairs. We have a hearing-impaired person to oversee the entire activity. The whole unit is a cross-disability helped unit,” Chitra explains.
She continues, “It is a question about giving dignity to a child. We often notice a school going child having their own table-chair or even a writing pad at home. But you may notice children with disabilities leaning against a wall and seated on the floor. We wanted to change all that.”