Jumping Kids Prosthetic Fund was formed to provide access to quality prosthetic equipment and rehabilitative care, mainstream education, and sports participation opportunities for children, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, living with lower limb amputations or deficiencies.
ImpactSA spoke to Jumping Kids Director, Michael Stevens.
A brief history and mission of Jumping Kids?
Jumping Kids was launched in 2009 by Johan Snyders, Chief Executive of IceXpress Progressive Prosthetics. Through his work in the field of prosthetics he became aware of countless children, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, living with limb amputations or deficiencies, without access to adequate prosthetic and orthotic solutions or rehabilitation therapy. Through Jumping Kids he realised his vision of providing the latest prosthetic limb and bracing technology to these children in South Africa and the African continent.
In 2011, Michael Stevens met Johan at a para-rowing event. Michael had been a double leg amputee since an accident at the age of 12. Michael joined Jumping Kids with the idea of “Changing the World” and giving more amputee kids access to the tools that had helped him; effective prosthetics and maintenance services, mainstream quality education and sporting opportunities.
Together they have assisted hundreds of amputee children and watched them develop their potential and show what is possible when the right solutions and support are in place.
How important is it to reach youth with prosthetic needs early on in life?
The earlier you can provide access the more likely it is that the kids will meet all their development goals. Our work with the Steve Biko Academic Hospital Congenital Birth Defect Clinic has highlighted the benefits of early intervention and support.
The programme for children that would have waited months, or even years for surgeries and access to prosthetics are streamlined and they are supported. Plans are put in place from as early as six months old in some cases. Prosthetics and other mobility devices are fitted as soon as it is feasible and the kids then go on to walk and be mobile around their communities and peers.
This helps to lessen the stigma that develops around disabled kids and their families. It also ensures they are able to transition into mainstream schools in their communities with fewer issues. Without the equipment many of the kids are hidden or kept at home as schools won’t accept them which, in turn, impacts their education, their development and has a long term negative impact on their future.
What are the typical challenges facing a young person with lower limb amputations or deficiencies?
There is a general lack of acceptance of the situation by the child, their family and the community they live in. If the child is born with a disability they can easily accept it, for it is all that they know, but this is not guaranteed. Being different can be challenging for some and learning to accept oneself is key. This goes for the families and communities since the disability has a range of impacts on them as well.
Societal impact could be that there are no schools in the area willing to accept a child in a wheelchair or one that uses a prosthetic. This means children with easily manageable disabilities are often sent to schools that are structured to deal with major disabilities.
Adults with disabilities are often not able to access work opportunities, earn a living or feel like they are contributing members of society; a society which, often, bullies and oppresses these individuals.
Lacking the access to basic equipment and services required to manage their disabilities, capable individuals are not able to be active or independent. This limits their health and can lead to further, unnecessary, burdens like guardians having to take time off work or extra expenses, like the hiring of assistants.
How do these prosthetics typically change their lives?
The individual has an immediate increase of independent mobility. Greater mobility means easier access to most places and performing most actions. This means you can go to school, get a job, play outside, drive a vehicle and create a life for yourself. A below-knee amputee needs crutches to move around when they don’t have a prosthetic; this not only limits their mobility, but it takes away the use of their hands for anything else – i.e. carrying a cup or anything involving moving and using your hands. Having a prosthetic limb means they can walk and use their hands for other things, like everyone else.
We have hundreds of kids whose lives have fundamentally changed, and their stories are what highlight the difference that access to these solutions can make. Ntando Mahlangu was told for 10 years that he wouldn’t walk and would be a challenge to his family for the rest of his life. Ten years later he has attended one of the best schools in the country, is a double Paralympic gold medallist and has the ability to decide his own future.
In terms of mobility, are infrastructure, public spaces and workplaces sufficiently geared toward people with mobility challenges?
The short answer is no. Some disabilities can manage these challenges better than others. Prosthetics means that the inaccessible stairs become usable and it’s possible for them to get around, even if it is not easy. The vast majority of mobility challenges for disabilities are misunderstood or not catered for. Most buildings, especially old buildings used by the government, do not provide options for wheelchair access. Guide dogs are not allowed in some public places and sign language is not known or practiced, even on public TV platforms.
What are the stigma issues that people with prosthetics face every day?
People with disabilities face a variety of prejudices. The biggest, in my opinion, is being underestimated and automatically excluded because of it. And this, simply, because you have some form of disability. You are therefore seen to be less useful, a burden, unintelligent and less of a person.
These types of prejudices have severe consequences. It results in people with disabilities being excluded, often at critical times and in critical decisions regarding their own lives. The knock-on effects from this can limit them even further, crushing their opportunities until they become dependent social grant candidates instead of the unique, capable, individuals they have the potential to be.