Adaptive Aids For Cerebral Palsy

The sixth of our series of ten articles on cerebral palsy (CP) looks at the range of aids and other adaptive equipment that help people with CP to move about and communicate effectively. With such equipment, people all over the world are able to lead independent lives.

Equipment that enhances mobility of people with CP include crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, bicycles, tricycles and scooters. Crutches and walkers are often critical for people with CP in enabling them to get about in offices and buildings. Additionally, these tools provide the most basic form of exercise necessary to maintain a healthy body. Some may prefer wheelchairs, particularly if they intend to travel several blocks. Of these, manual wheelchairs are the least expensive, while power wheelchairs may be an option if mobility in one’s limbs is seriously compromised. Sports wheelchairs are an option for people with less severe CP who desire an active lifestyle.

Custom made bicycles and tricycles enable people with CP to exercise in a more rigorous way than walking. Such adaptive equipment enhances the movement of existing muscles, while not neglecting the importance of exercising other parts of the body. Other long-term benefits include a relatively strong immune system, and overall physical well-being. 

In some countries, scooters are specially designed to enable people with CP to travel further distances without relying on public transport. Understandably this option would be suitable so long as one’s condition allows for it. Still, it is heartening to note that the technology is available to people with CP who wish to have a more mobile lifestyle.

Besides equipment that enhances one’s mobility, there are other devices that help people with CP communicate more effectively. These include symbol boards that rely on eye-gazing or pointing rather than speech, electronic voice synthesizers that utilise algorithms to interpret the sounds emitted from one’s voice into intelligible words, and head sticks for people with CP who work on the computer but face challenges in typing words using their fingers.

Some equipment that helps people with daily living include electronic door openers in their home environment, as well as specialised eating utensils. Outdoors, there is an increasing awareness of and sensitivity to designing buildings and transport infrastructure that is ergonomic and friendly to people with disabilities. These include automatic doors, wheelchair-friendly ramps, and disabled-friendly restrooms.

In terms of education, physical equipment goes hand in hand with curricular support necessary to foster a conducive learning environment for children with CP. For instance, a child with CP may be required to learn the basic motor and communication skills before starting school. When the child is deemed ready for formal education, a standing frame can help minimise the distraction of having to maintain one’s balance, while enabling one to learn alongside one’s able-bodied peers. Additionally, a child with CP may be given more time to complete an exam. Parents or caregivers and educators will do well to work closely to help children with CP achieve their educational goals.

The overall educational environment should be one that is conducive for the formation of strong friendships with one’s peers. This would be crucial in enabling people with CP to develop good relationships with others when they enter working life, and contribute fully and positively to society as a whole.

There is room for improvement in terms of physical and social barriers against people with CP, which will be discussed in the next article. However, technology advances are sufficient for people with CP to live independently and be productive members of the workforce.