Technology Assisting Physically and Mentally Challenged Individuals in Taiwan

Technology Assisting Physically and Mentally Challenged Individuals in Taiwan
Photo Credit: The Icebreaker Association

What you need to know

Many physically challenged individuals experience difficulties registering for expensive government service programs. The Icebreaker Association is trying to help through technology.

When Kevin Gallagher and his colleagues traveled to the east coast of Taiwan two years ago, they didn’t expect to meet a young aboriginal boy from the Atayal tribe. The group was on an outreach program when they met Gumai, who suffered from cerebral palsy, a disorder in the brain causing individuals to lose sense of motor functions such as muscle control and body movement.

Gumai’s parents knew their child was intelligent; his only issue was not having any access to education. Gumai and his family wanted a fair opportunity for him to attend school, but the resources provided by the Taiwanese government were limited and expensive. That’s when Gallagher and his team at the Icebreaker Association decided to help.

“We accessed his movement and noticed all of his body is unstable and out of place,” Gallagher told The News Lens International. “However, his eyesight was perfect.”

His team paired Gumai up with an eye-control mouse so he could learn through computer technology. If it weren’t for this innovative piece of technology, Gallagher feels that Gumai’s chances of achieving his goals in education would be impossible.

“We started him off with some games for practice, but then progressed to a screen keyboard so he can type Chinese characters. Without this assistive technology, the boy would be sitting in a wheelchair in the corner of the classroom,” Gallagher says.

Photo Credit: The Icebreaker Association

Tony Lin (林中竹), Jennifer Chang (張嘉純) and Gallagher created the Icebreaker Association to help people with severe physical disabilities like Gumai. With more than 15 years of experience in the field, their mission is to bring assistive technologies to these individuals and others in need. Cerebral palsy, muscle degeneration and spinal cord injuries are some of the disorders most of their clients suffer from.

Gumai now has the ability to learn in a school environment, but the situation is different in other cases.

“We go into schools and see children with cerebral palsy in the corner of the room just not taking part in the classroom activities,” Gallagher says.

According to Gallagher, if the Taiwanese government provided more access and support, others like Gumai would be able to live life to the fullest.

So what does this mean for the rest of the severely physically challenged population in Taiwan? The Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed on July 18 several additions designed for physically challenged patients and the elderly to Taiwan’s long-term healthcare system. It complies with President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Long-term Care Plan 2.0 program, which remains an important platform for her administration.

Over the next four years, the government hopes to enture that a total of 2,529 long-term care facilities are established to assist both groups. However, the four-year goal is unlikely to be reached without sufficient funds, a perennial problem in Taiwan.

The care facilities for physically challenged patients in Taiwan comes with a high price tag: estimates put costs at US$640 million, four times the original budget for services to the physically challenged and elderly population.

Gallagher says physically challenged individuals also experience difficulties registering for the government service programs because they are often too expensive.

However, aside from the government’s increasing support, the Icebreaker Association will remain as an outlet for physically challenged individuals seeking assistive technologies. Other than finding those in need, Gallagher, Chang and Lin offer seminars, workshops and DIY programs. They encourage average people to try out some of the assistive technologies to educate and increase public awareness, one of the Association's principal objectives.

“We offer a bunch of stuff aimed to bridge this gap,” Gallagher says. “Once we [make] contact with disabled people it helps us a lot. It changes our attitude towards our own ways.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole