Conclusion and Suggestions
Overall, both aids-making workshops held with Los Pipitos in Nicaragua were judged a great success by all concerned: participants, families, and the disabled children involved.
As predicted, some of the assistive devices turned out better than others. When the time was up, some still needed work, and many called for follow-up.
But we all learned a lot through our mistakes as much as our successes. Above all the participants realized how important it is to include the families and as much as possible, the children themselves, in the problem-solving process.
Suggestions for Improvement
1. Allow More Time
Looking back at the experience, a suggestion was made by the organizers that the time scheduled for such an intensive, hands-on activity be extended from 2 days to 2 1⁄2 or 3 days (not counting the initial seminar). This would allow participants more time to finish constructing the assistive devices and test them more systematically. Another advantage would be that the final session—demonstration and evaluation—could be postponed to the next morning when everyone is fresh. That way, more time and energy could be devoted to critical analysis, thus adding invaluably to the learning experience.
A disadvantage, however, would be arranging for the disabled children and family members to either stay overnight or to travel to and from their homes an additional time (some families live quite far away). It is, of course, essential that the children and their family members be involved in evaluating the functionality of the aids produced.
2. More Emphasis on Sharing of Ideas, and of Learning Through a Problem Solving-Process
I returned from Nicaragua quite exhilarated. A great deal is being accomplished to benefit disabled children, and both Los Pipitos and the Telethon are make an enormous difference. Yet at the same time, much remains to be done.
Many disabled children’s needs are not adequately met, despite substantial input of resources and concern. One reason for this is that too that often persons with formal training in the field of rehabilitation, for all their good will, do not take a sufficiently observant, innovative, open-ended approach. Rather they tend to follow a routine, according to generic diagnoses and text-book expectations. Too often they do not adequately and humbly explore with the family and child, the child’s possibilities as a person in her or his own right.
There are, of course, outstanding exceptions: therapists who dare to climb out of the box to take a more personalized, creative, and empowering approach. It is important that parent cooperatives like Los Pipitos learn to hunt out and make the best use of these more liberated and liberating professionals.
3. Change Needed in Schooling—and in Selecting Who Qualifies
In terms of long term goals, it appears the overall approach to education needs to be changed. From primary school through professional training, a more open-ended, egalitarian, discovery-based approach is needed.
Also it would help if students going into the “helping professions” were selected less by grade point average and more by their creativity and open-ended humility. They need to be willing to work with other people, especially marginalized persons, as equals.
4. More Disabled Rehab Professionals and Technicians
Many women’s rights advocates think that more gynecologists and obstetricians should be women. By the same token, perhaps more physiotherapists and rehabilitation specialists should be persons with disabilities—or at least be close family members of disabled persons. Such family involvement is the intrinsic strength of Los Pipitos, as of other endeavors led by parents.
But parents alone are not enough. (Too often parents are overprotective.) Disabled children need caring role models who have similar disabilities.
This is why, when I facilitate an aids-making workshop, I generally insist that at least half the participants should be disabled persons. By insisting on half, in the final countdown usually at least 10% have disabilities. Often these disabled persons take the lead in creative problem-solving and are especially sensitive to both the felt and real needs of the disabled child. They are more ready to step outside the box and look at the disabled children’s dreams and strengths before their weaknesses and fears.
5. The Future of Los Pipitos: More Leadership by the Disabled Children as They Grow Up—and Scholarships to Prepare Them
For the above reasons, I hope that in the near future more leadership of Los Pipitos will be taken over by disabled children themselves, as they grow up. In some of the chapters of Los Pipitos this is already happening. Three cheers!
It would also be grand if Los Pipitos could provide scholarships and encourage some of their disabled young people to study in disability-related professions such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, brace and limb making, wheelchair design, special education, audiology, human rights advocacy, and social transformation.
With more disabled persons in the rehab profession, perhaps our institutions would stop teaching by rote and putting nonconformists into suffocating little compartments.
Perhaps together we can begin to build a saner, kinder world that celebrates diversity and gives even the odd-balls a fair chance.