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Fostering self-reliance

After distributing wheelchairs worldwide during the past four years the Church is teaming with BYU students to ensure the chairs are providing the best possible service to those in need.
Photo courtesy Humanitarian ServicesChild from Afghanistan uses donated wheelchair. BYU students are conducting surveys to ensure quality of Church-distributed wheelchairs.
Photo courtesy Humanitarian ServicesThousands gather in China at an event where the Church as part of a major initiative distributed wheelchairs to those in need. Since 2001 the Church has distributed 176583 wheelchairs in 97 countries.
With a wheelchair the Church is also giving a person with a disability something that will improve their quality of life said Rich McKenna director of Church Humanitarian Services.
Since 2001 the Church has distributed 176583 wheelchairs in 97 countries. An evaluation of the program last year showed that those wheelchairs have had a profound impact on a disabled individuals ability to provide income for themselves. In addition said Brother McKenna the wheelchairs have had a larger impact on the individuals family members to provide for the family.
However the evaluation found that in a very small percentage of cases wheelchairs break down or need repairs. So the Church asked BYU engineering students to evaluate the chairs specifically looking at the type of tire used.
It was all aimed to improve the quality of the chair said Brother McKenna.
When the students found both solid rubber tires and pneumatic tires like the kind used on a bicycle perform equally well and both had advantages the Church asked BYU business students to conduct a survey determining which tire best serves the user.
As a result BYU students are now working in the Dominican Republic performing a full range of statistical analysis said Mark Thomas director of Field Studies for the BYU Marriott School of Management.
The Dominican Republic was selected simply because the Church as part of a current initiative was already distributing wheelchairs there said Brother McKenna.
Brother Thomas said students are conducting interviews with those who have received Latter-day Saint-produced wheelchairs in an effort to determine which chair better serves them. Some chairs for example would maneuver better on dirt roads while others may work better on city streets. They planned to track needed repairs on the chairs if there were any.
We dont know but we suspect that in different parts of the country they will prefer one wheelchair over another he said. We are also going to find out a little about the impact of the wheelchair. We are going to try to find out through secondary research and surveys how we can better serve people.
The research he said will have quantitative reliability and be statistically significant.
Brother Thomas said that BYU conducts similar projects for numerous major companies or organizations across the country. This project however had greater student interest than most.
In this project there was enormous interest which says a lot for the students that they would consider this an important part of their education to go out and help people.
The Church began a formalized wheelchair initiative in 2003 first teaming with the Wheelchair Foundation and then contracting with companies to produce chairs themselves overseeing distribution of the chairs and ensuring quality control through the entire process.
Our goal Brother McKenna said in addition to providing a wheelchair to a person with a disability— and helping them become more self-reliant — is to strengthen local organizations that are serving the needs of the disabled.
That might include working with communities to promote accessibility for the disabled providing career workshops or rehabilitation training he said.
E-mail to: sarah@desnews.com

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