Making physical therapy a lot more fun

Ms Su Hui Ting, a social work and volunteer management executive with the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled, guiding Mr Tang Bok An, a resident of the home, as he uses a handcycle. It is one of three occupational therapy devices that volunteers from social enterprise Sustainable Living Lab are creating for the home’s residents.
PHOTO: Making physical therapy a lot more fun

SINGAPORE- A green cone bobs up and down and a fan spins as Mr Tang Bok An powers through his arm exercises on a hand- cycle - a device that mimics a bicycle's foot pedals.

The faster he moves his arms, the more quickly the cone bounces and the more vigorously the blades of the fan turn. And the wider his toothless grin.

"Jin ho! Jin ho!" exclaimed Mr Tang, meaning "very good" in Hokkien.

The 54-year-old is a resident of the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled.

Like the other 126 residents living there, he has at least one hour of physical therapy exercises every week to improve hand-eye coordination and prevent problems like muscular atrophy and frozen shoulders from setting in.

Yet, these exercises can get repetitive. To motivate them, a group of young people came together to create customised occupational therapy devices that make exercising more fun.

The group comprises six volunteers - including a researcher, a tuition teacher and undergraduates - from social enterprise Sustainable Living Lab, which promotes "green living" by rethinking the way things are made.

They decided to start with three items: a handcycle, an "interactive" staircase with pressure sensors that lights up and plays music when a user steps on it, and a hand pulley system. They were guided by Mr Veerappan Swaminathan, 28, co-founder of Sustainable Living Lab.

It was daunting at first.

"We had no expertise in making things at all and we were scared because we didn't even know how to use the tools," said Ms Lee Shi Ying, 21, a Nanyang Technological University accountancy undergraduate. But the team pushed on, learning how to use machines like a 3-D printer and a laser cutter.

Ms Su Hui Ting, a social work and volunteer management executive at the home who helps out with the project, said the volunteers knew that similar devices available in the market would be too expensive for the home. "A simple game board can cost a few hundred dollars," said the 25-year-old.

So the volunteers spent every Sunday over the last three months toiling away in the lab, even though it was the lead-up to the exam season for the undergraduates in the group.

The project received $1,820 in funding from the Central Singapore Community Development Council.

They completed the handcycle two weeks ago and have begun programming circuits for the staircase.

Said Mr Swaminathan: "We want to use technology for a social purpose and the volunteers also learn life skills such as being resilient in the face of problems."

Ms Lee agreed. "It is not what you start but what you finish that matters."


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