Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Shona McDonald was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Without the right type of wheelchair, children with disabilities can develop serious secondary health complications, and are at risk of becoming socially isolated. Shona realized early on that existing wheelchairs were not adaptable to the evolving needs of disabled children, and could lead to problems in physical development. This is especially true for those children in rural and peri-urban areas with limited access to quality wheelchairs appropriate for rugged terrain. Additionally, the likelihood of improved mobility over time is significantly reduced when mobility devices and clinical services for disabled children are designed without postural education in mind.

In order to address these challenges, Shona designs, manufactures, and distributes mobility and body support devices that improve the posture and mobility of children with disabilities. Shona sees these new wheelchairs as more than just a means of locomotion but as an opportunity to foster postural education for disabled children. Shona’s products are tailored to each child’s postural needs, can be easily maintained, and are modifiable for rural environments. These devices specifically consider the Southern African environment; for if they cannot be used to travel on the harsh and abrasive terrain, they are ineffective to the user and deny disabled children their independence. In this way, Shona’s designs are more progressive than most standard fold-up models that are donated by international organizations and commonly found in the region. Shona also uses existing health structures in rural areas to educate caregivers, the community, parents and the disabled in postural education techniques and mobility device usage and maintenance. The devices are manufactured and sold through Shonaquip (a for-profit organization) and distributed free of charge to communities in need through Uhambo Foundation (a citizen organization (CO) that also drives policy change and advocates for a more inclusive society).

To date, Shona’s organization has provided over 69,000 wheelchairs and seating support devices. For every child with a disability an average of another five to seven people are affected. Shona’s work has impacted more than 450,000 people including the seating and caregiver training programs, Shona plans to scale up production in order to double her impact over the next five years. She has also developed special toolkits and training sessions for people who cannot afford new wheelchairs (or do not have access to free wheelchairs) so that they can refurbish and adjust their old devices to meet their needs. Shona is working with the World Health Organization (WHO), to change their policies related to wheelchair and mobility equipment provision to populations in need all over the world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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