Assistive technology center opened

Middle East, May 7 2014

MUSCAT: A new center offering Assistive Technology and specialized rehabilitation for people with disabilities has opened in Oman, the first of its kind in the region.

The White Hands Centre for Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation (WHC), which opened in Al Mawaleh in March, is the realisation of long held dream of its director, Aisha Baabood. The centre helps empower and educate people with disabilities by using Assistive Technology and a range of therapies.

“It’s unique. It’s the first of its kind. There’s no similar example of the White Hands Centre in the whole GCC, even in the Arab world,” Aisha told Times of Oman.

Aisha’s own son, Omar, has disabilities, and she did extensive research into treatments and therapy for him.

The experts and technology weren’t available in Oman, so she took him abroad, and attended numerous conferences to learn more, during which she discovered Assistive Technology. Well aware that many other children, and even adults, needed access to similar treatment in Oman, she decided to open a centre here.

“I took my son to a center that has comprehensive therapies. They catered to his individual needs in terms of education and emotional aspects. I said, I will stop travelling to Europe and establish my own centre here. Now my son comes here,” she said proudly.

For nearly two years Aisha looked for funding and qualified staff for her centre. In what she describes as a miracle, the WJ Towell Goup offered to finance the WHC until it could become financially stable with revenue from clients and donations to subsidise low-income clients. Al Habib & Co LLC, meanwhile, paid for Aisha to take three courses in Assistive Technology.

The WHC has Assistive Technology and the complementary therapies. People with disabilities — mobility, vision or hearing disability, cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, intellectual and learning disabilities, and even age-related disabilities like Alzheimer’s — will be able to get tailored treatments there.

“Every single person with disability can benefit from the center because we have a programme for each, whether it’s something to do with Assistive Technology or comprehensive therapy,” she explained.

The experts at WHC can help even people with the most severe physical disabilities that prevent them from moving or speaking to communicate by blinking.

“People with disabilities can be isolated. But with assistive technology you can break the silence. You can change so many people’s lives,” Aisha said.

In addition to Aisha, the staff includes Asma Geitany, an educational psychologist; Charis Mallopas, a special needs educator; Marianna Gregoriou, an Assistive Technology specialist; Hania Al Jebba, a speech therapist; Panteleimon Makris, who is a consultant and expertise in Assistive Technology; and Bahiya Baabood, head of Human Resources and Training.

Every two months a reflex therapist, Lone Sorensen, visits the centre to offer her services, too, which help improve a number of skills including language, communication, concentration, memory, learning, and social integration. When Sorensen is in Muscat, the centre receives patients from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other GCC countries, since those services aren’t available anywhere else in the Arab world.

The experts at the WHC work closely with parents to understand the children’s needs, and identify ways the parents can help with therapies at home. Many people have been calling the center, asking about its services and booking assessments, Aisha said.

“We are the only ones who provide Assistive Technology devices and tools. We are the only ones who actually assess the needs of children with disabilities to find out what the suitable Assistive Technology tool or device or software for them is,” explained Aisha.

Aisha isn’t sure why these Assistive Technology tools aren’t yet available in Oman, but she is trying to change that. Not only can people get treatment that uses Assistive Technology at the centre, but they can also order them through the centre to have them at home and reinforce the therapy on their own.

“Parents are just hopeless and helpless sometimes. I really want the parents to be empowered and to believe in themselves because they can do a lot. All they have to do is find the right resources and invest in their children,” she said.

The center also offers diagnoses of Irlen Syndrome, also known as scotopic sensitivity syndrome, which is an eye condition that causes problems for reading and visual perception because of hypersensitivity to some wavelengths of light. It causes lack of concentration and difficulties reading because the eyes can’t focus properly.

Treatments can be as simple as replacing neon lights with softer bulbs, placing coloured transparent sheets over the pages, which keep the words focused, or for more serious cases, there are special glasses.

Five of the staff, including Aisha, are trained to screen for Irlen Syndrome. The center is collaborating with Nizwa University to do research on the syndrome in Oman, too.

Ultimately, Aisha wants to expand the center to include hydrotherapy, oxygen therapy, laser therapy and other treatments for people with disabilities that are not yet available in Oman. She has seen the positive changes they can bring to people’s lives, and believes they should be accessible here, too. She says there is also a great need for more services for people with disabilities outside of Muscat, as most of the centres are located here.

“There is still a huge demand for opening more rehabilitation centres in each governorate. My dream is to expand and have a White Hands Centre in each governorate so people don’t have to come all the way,” Aisha revealed.

For more information on White Hands Centre for Assistive Technology and rehabilitation, call 24538614.

Source: Times of Oman

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