Seats That Enable: a Special Seating Seminar-Workshop in Culiacan, Mexico

On 1-5 March 1999, Jean Anne Zollars, a physiotherapist and seating expert from New Mexico, facilitated a mini-course in “Special Seating” at Mas Validos, a Community-Based Rehabilitation programme, run largely by the parents of disabled children in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, Mexico. The course was followed by a two-day workshop held at PROJIMO, in the village of Ajoya about 160 kilometres away. David Werner was the co-facilitator of the course and workshop.

A total of 107 participants took part in the course-cum-workshop. Many of the participants already had some experience making seating and other rehabilitation equipment. A large number of the children present had cerebral palsy. Having a specially designed seat that helps them sit in a comfortable and functional position can make a difference in their development and happiness. But to design and build a seat to the needs of a child with a lot of spasticity or deformity is both a science and an art. It is a skill that can be learned only by working closely and sensitively with the child and his family.

The five-day event was a marvelous learning experience for all involved: programme participants, parents and the disabled children themselves. The close involvement with parents and children made the sharing and learning experience richer for everyone.

Several innovations were developed during this workshop and changed the lives of many young children. Jose, a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, who spends most of his life lying on his back, can now sit upright in a specially designed seat where wedges hold his hips in place. A slotted board under the front of the seat tilts it back to a safe angle. Jose can now better control his head and arms. Although the seat designed was only a makeshift, a proper one could be made in due course.

Another beneficiary of the workshop is Juan de Dios. This five-year-old has spina bifida, a severe deformity of the spine where a big lump protrudes from the middle of his back. Before the course, a paraplegic wheelchair builder, Gabriel Zepeda, built a small custom-made wheelchair for Juan. The backrest was padded with thick foam rubber with a big hole cut out of it to avoid pressure on the angular back deformity. However, the doughnut-like back-rest was not foolproof as Juan’s body tended to bend forward when he propelled his wheelchair. In fact, his backbone acted like a hinge. After modifications, a harness with shoulder straps and made out of soft, padded cloth was attached to the wheelchair. Juan is now able to move about in a more upright position, with his backbone held straighter. This helps reduce the spinal deformity, lets him breathe more deeply and gives more room for his internal organs which may mean a longer, healthier, more active life.

Publication Information


Adapted from Healthwrights, May 1999.

A version of this article appeared in Newsletter #40.