Madhavi Suneel Tambay

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1989
Related TopicsHealth & Fitness, Disability


This profile was prepared when Madhavi Suneel Tambay was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Building her methodology from 40 of her own cases, Madhavi is developing a simple approach to teaching cerebral palsy victims and their families how to use a variety of means of expression other than speech, most utilizing naturally occurring situations in everyday life, to foster more effective communication.
Until now the professional antidote to speechlessness has been speech therapy, a process requiring a highly trained professional to work intensively with the person having trouble speaking. Over the last decade several of the leading theorists and writers in the field on the one hand and Madhavi observing the limitations of this approach on the other, were both moving towards a new paradigm. It stresses the need to develop two-way communication through whatever means works, first within the family and then in the broader community.
Madhavi's professional transformation was catalyzed when she recognized that the parents of the cerebral palsy children with whom she was working at the Spastic Society of Eastern India were not able to absorb the training given them and that therefore their children were not getting the home care they needed. She started inviting these families to observe how she worked, to participate in designing the remedial program for their child, and then to carry it out at home. The strategy worked remarkably well, both in getting the job done in these homes and in educating Madhavi. Her work now begins with the objective of engaging the family of the victim in a family-wide remedial effort.
Madhavi's second major goal is to find a way of getting effective help to the vast majority of such victims, who have no access, and can never have access to the tiny, very expensive capacity of the few urban-based, professional institutions pursuing the old paradigm. She estimates, for example, that only 3000 of India's over 3,000,000 cerebral palsy victims now are getting any remedial help.
Madhavi consequently is trying to develop both simple means of communications and simple ways of training the victims and their families in their use. Recognizing that she and the country's few other professionals could never reach even a modest portion of the families needing help directly, she is designing her approach to be used by social workers after only very limited training. She is currently working to develop a simple manual to help them be effective. This part of Madhavi's work is designed to bring treatment to the victims, not vice versa.
To the degree that she can demonstrate such an effective and economic community and homeªbased approach, she will have created a model that can help make the fields new communications-through-all-means paradigm practically useful.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You