Thursday, October 9, 2014

Assistive Technology reaches orphanage in Vietnam

How Assistive Technology from the UATP touched the lives of Vietnamese children. 

A child enjoys a therapeutic massage
A child enjoys a therapeutic massage.
Low-tech devices are sometimes the best solution to help an individual with a disability. That was certainly the case when UATP friend and colleague, Sheri Newton of the Disability Law Center, took some devices made in the AT Lab to Vietnam during a vacation in June.

While planning her trip, Sheri approached UATP about getting a few low-tech devices, from adapted eating utensils to adapted writing utensils, that she could take easily on the plane.

Sheri spent some time volunteering at a orphanage for kids with disabilities while in Vietnam, showing them the AT devices, helping with therapy and just spending time with the children.

Unfortunately, assistive technology, even the most inexpensive like these low-tech devices, is still unknown or not accessible in many parts of the world. UATP would like to thank Sheri and all of those that work to make those connections so people with disabilities the world over can have a higher quality of life through assistive technology.

Read on below to hear more about Sheri's experience. 

Dear Storee:

I'm writing with gratitude to the Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP) for providing some simple assistive devices for me to share with orphans in Vietnam. After traveling to that beautiful country this summer, I have a cherished memory of spending a few hours volunteering at an orphanage for children with disabilities.

Sheri comforts a child while the other children test their new cots and chairs
Sheri found this child while everyone else in the room
was in adaptive chairs or laying on cots.

"He actually has strength in his legs and he liked
it when we held him so he could put his weight on
them," she said. "With the stretched resources at the
orphanage, I expect he will rarely have the chance
to exercise his legs or learn how to walk.
As he gets bigger, I'm afraid he will be
stuck in the cot or chair as well."
The facility I visited was small compared to the state-run school that holds over 300 children with disabilities. Upon entering, I found children sitting on the tile floor or ambulating with simple walking aids. They kids greeted us with excitement and immediately gathered around. They loved to touch my skirt or grab my hand to steal a moment of individual attention.

Upon climbing the stairs to another room, my companions and I were deeply moved. Children lay on cots or sat in adaptive chairs lined up in rows. A few toys in plastic shoe boxes were nested high on shelf. A couple of attendants kept the 14 children there clean and fed. That is all they had time for. It was impossible to distinguish between girls and boys. They all had their hair cut short. Some had fingernail polish or simple bracelets, gifts from another group. 

We learned later that this was still not an indication of gender, just of preference. When an aide who spoke English came along, I asked, "How old are the children here, between about 3 and 10?"

She explained that the children were up to age 23. I was astonished. Pointing to a child that I had assumed was four or five, she stated that he was 17-years-old. His 4-foot cot provided him plenty of room.

We spent the next couple of hours talking and singing to, holding, stretching and massaging the children. It was extraordinary and emotionally painful to have something as simple as stroking an arm or stretching a curled leg have such a profound effect. They hungered for it and they rewarded us with beaming faces and affection. The way that they lived was heart-wrenching to us; however, the strength of their spirit was magnetic.

We found that the adaptive spoons and writing tools were best suited for the circumstances. Most of the children must wait their turn for aids to feed them. A German woman with a little background in therapy working there was excited to have the tools to help some of the children to eat on their own or express themselves with crayons or markers.

"I wanted him to have love in his life," said Sheri, about her experience with this child.
"I was so drawn to this child," Sheri said.
"I thought she was a girl, but I believe they said she was a little boy.
He was happy and engaging,
I wanted to take him outside to feel the rain and the breeze,
to show him the world, to experience beautiful music,
to swim and play games. I wanted him to have love in his life."

I returned to the states with the aids for putting on shoes and socks (they didn't have any) and items to hold books in place. The only book I saw was one of my favorites, Susan Laughs that I had translated into Vietnamese and left at the home as a gift.

Thanks again UATP for providing me the opportunity to give something meaningful to these children and the exhausted 
workers who care for them. 

Your support is wonderful.

Sheri Newton
Disability Law Center of Utah

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