Thrones for children with special needs

2011-03-07 00:00

“ALL the world needs is people to think out of the box and say, ‘We can make a difference.’” says Domini Lewis, director of the Pietermaritzburg and District Cerebral Palsy Association­.

For the average person, a wooden commode for children with cerebral palsy may not seem like much but it’s more than just a toilet-training tool,. It’s a form of dignity and independence for these children.

Wendy Leeb, the brain behind these commodes and the Feel the Wood campaign, came up with the idea during a discussion with Lewis about the difficulties faced by people with special needs.

“My experience of children [with cerebral palsy] was pretty much like anybody else, until [Lewis] explained to me that it is essential for these children, where possible, to be toilet trained, both in terms of improving their self-esteem and to enable them to have a better quality of life.

“In terms of their futures, most schools, including special schools, are not able to cope with children who are not toilet trained,” said Leeb.

Her Feel the Wood campaign has two objectives: to provide special commodes for these children (especially in rural areas where there is a greater need for them) and to raise awareness of cerebral palsy and the needs of people who are affected by disabilities to be seen as normal.

“I co-opted my husband, professor- turned-carpenter, to explore the idea of commodes,” said Leeb. “And, after much research, he came up with a model.”

The aim of this commode is to give the children something that other children would admire, and to look as unlike a toilet as possible, because, let’s face it, children are ruthless when it comes to anyone­ slightly different. The result is a beautifully made and good-looking wooden chair with a liftable toilet lid.

“Not only are other commodes ugly, but they are also structurally unsound for people living in rural areas because they are designed for internal spaces,” said Lewis.

Since most of these commodes are going to children in rural homes, they have also been designed to be light and therefore easily manoeuvrable.

“This enables them to be moved outdoors allowing the child to be a part of society, to interact with other people and be among their environment. Many of these children [with disabilities] are often kept hidden or don’t have the opportunity to socialise in their communities. This commode changes that,” explained Leeb.

Because the wooden commode is so stable, it also enables the children to feel safe.

The design doesn’t require any special equipment and caregivers can simply use a plastic bucket under the hole. Additionally it is hygienic and can be easily wiped.

“The commode is not only to support the child, but the caregiver as well,” explains Lewis.

“This is not just a chair and toilet, this has so many facets to it. It is beyond my wildest dreams.”

With the help of the Midlands Woodworkers Guild and a kind donor, 50 commodes have been made for the project thus far.

Leeb feels that this is just a drop in the ocean and hopes that the community will aid in the production of more commodes.

She also plans to make the design for these commodes freely available to the public in the hope that the initiative will spread and that others will help make the commode available worldwide to people, old and young, with any special need.

• If you would like to contribute or would like more information, contact Wendy Leeb at 082 802 6843 or e-mail her at LEEBW@kznlegisla


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