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Malawians With Disabilities Project

Summary & Objectives

Although there are no official figures on the number of disabled persons in Malawi, estimates suggest that their numbers are significant: Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development. However Government efforts to help the disabled fall far behind actual need. For most who live in rural areas, there is no one other than family members to care of them and many, especially women, are targets of abuse.

The Disabled Malawian project involves senior students in bioengineering who are involved in a one-year design class under the leadership of Professor Vincent Pizziconi. Students in the class use video recorded interviews, conducted by Dr. Jan Snyder in Malawian villages, with disabled people. The students use these interviews, and sometimes follow-up text messaging with contacts in Malawi, to design and fabricate devices for these same people. The devices are then shipped to Malawi and delivered by Dr. Snyder. We hope to provide opportunity for these people to be able to sustain themselves eventually.

The technology developed by the students must be done within the framework of materials and equipment available in the Country. Before the devices are delivered, they are shown to local technicians who work for the Malawian Government under the framework of Malawians Against Physical Disabilities (MAP). Currently, these technicians build devices that are crude, at best, while they admit to being overworked and unable to serve all who need assistance. These technicians are provided with design information sufficient for them to either build more like the original or repair them in the future. Hence, the technicians at MAP become owners of the technology provided by the ASU bioengineering students.

To maintain this project for the long terms, we are also working to develop collaboration with professors and students at the University of Malawi, Technology Campus, in Blantyre. Dr. Snyder met with two professors in their engineering department in July of 2007 and preliminary efforts were undertaken to establish UM/ASU student collaborations that will involve use of the Interne, email and cell phone technology to jointly develop and fabricate the devices in the future.

In order to sustain this project, there is necessity for Dr. Snyder to return to Malawi each year to deliver the devices and interview more disabled people. Until now, each trip has been personally funded but that option is no longer reasonable as family financial conditions cannot continue to support these endeavors without assistance.

Read the article written by Hilda Malikebu, a disabled Malawian woman who provides a perspective on what it is like for people who are physically challenged in that country. For more, please visit: "Disability is not inability" or UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

You can see one of our completed projects designed by ASU bioengineering students for a Malawian boy with polio.