Motivation CEO Amanda Wilkinson on ensuring the right wheelchairs are provided in the right way.

Despite having one of the fastest growing economies in the world, about 40% of India’s population still lives below the poverty line. The last census reports that 27 million people have some form of disability. Of those, 20% have a mobility disability and at least one million people need a wheelchair.

Without an appropriate wheelchair, disabled people are left isolated socially and economically. They are among the poorest of the poor, are invisible to their communities and are vulnerable to life-threatening health conditions. What's more, stigma and discrimination remain endemic in India, making the situation even worse and marginalising disabled people further.

The right wheelchair, the right way

In 2010, we established a South Asia operation to address the need and provide ‘the right wheelchair in the right way’. We work by partnering with local organisations and providing them with World Health Organisation (WHO) training, equipment, infrastructure and technical support, and staff development. These partners then become part of a national wheelchair service network – they become wheelchair service providers who are able to assess and fit disabled people with appropriate wheelchairs.  

Since 2010, we have provided over 13,000 wheelchairs across India. However, we know the need continues to outflank us. Our supply barely scrapes the surface of the demand and is entirely dependent on sources of aid that are diminishing since India was classed as a ‘middle income country’ by the World Bank.

Innovating partnerships

Motivation has always strived to be innovative, working to influence manufacturers and companies whose approach might be different or even at odds with our own.

ALIMCO is the Indian government’s provider of assistive technology. From its manufacturing plant in Kanpur, ALIMCO makes a range of different products to distribute via camps and through medical facilities. It’s a huge remit undertaken with limited resources and capacity, and consequently neither the wheelchairs nor the provision meet minimum WHO standards.

At the end of 2016, we entered into a partnership with ALIMCO to provide our expertise and help it produce two of our wheelchair designs. The goal of the partnership is simple: to enable the Indian government to produce its own high-quality wheelchairs and fulfil the needs of thousands of disabled people, while lifting ALIMCO’s processes to align with international manufacturing standards.

This was a landmark partnership with the potential to see a small social enterprise INGO in Bristol potentially influencing quality and provision in the largest democracy in the world. If successful, this would be a phenomenal win not only for the improved provision of assistive technology but in lifting national manufacturing standards.

The partnership is not without its challenges but we are committed to the project because it has the potential to support large-scale production on a scale Motivation alone could never realise.

We truly believe that large-scale sustainable development solutions for disabled people can only happen if we work creatively and collaboratively with a range of different partners including governments.

As we approach the Global Disability Summit in July, we hope that the result of these unparalleled discussions will explore working with governments, the private sector, social enterprise and international charities to develop and fund lasting solutions towards disability inclusion. But we also hope that new partnerships don’t try to reinvent the wheel!

Current partnerships like Motivation’s with ALIMCO could be propelled to even greater success by a boost in international purpose and greater resource. Motivation is already tackling a major barrier to the inclusion of disabled people through the provision of the right wheelchair in the right way, but we need more help to make this provision last for every disabled person now and in the future.

We are hugely optimistic that the case for imaginative and innovative solutions to the provision of assistive technology will be heard loud and clear at the Global Disability Summit. We hope you add your voice to our own.  

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If you would like to find out more about the upcoming Global Disability Summit, you can get in touch at [email protected] or read the blog from our Head of Programmes.