A balancing technique for people with special needs

Researchers from the Division for Physical Education of Tomsk Polytechnic University are working on developing equilibrium skills on slippery surfaces for people with disabilities. This technique can help disabled people to move more steadily along the streets in winter. The researchers propose to change a conventional approach, i.e. to train disabled people to maintain balance and walk like common people, and to develop those specific mechanisms which their bodies have already developed. 

Photo: yandex.ru/images.

A group of 15 students with disabilities who exercise at the specialized simulator to develop equilibrium was formed at the University. Data obtained during these workouts helped the researchers to identify a number of patterns in the movements of people with disabilities.

Project leader Leonid Kapilevitch, professor from the Division for Physical Education says:

‘Ice and rough roads represent a big challenge for people with special needs because it is more difficult for them to maintain equilibrium. In addition, there is a psychological constrain, it is enough to fall down once a person starts to be afraid of falling.

In our practice, we often see such people who try not to leave home without a need. We have already been working with disabled people for a long time. We have a patented method for rehabilitating children with cerebral palsy. The current project continues research in this field. We propose not to teach such people walking like others but to use their unique capabilities with which their bodies replace lost or limited ones. Our experience shows that in this approach disabled people start to move as more efficiently as possible.’  

Students attending special physical education classes include people with problems of musculoskeletal systems and visually impaired people. In the classroom, they do exercises at the simulator that is a moving platform connected to a display. Moving the body and pressing the platform by feet a student changes the position of the cursor and do different tasks: for example, to put the cursor to the middle of the screen, to draw numbers and straight lines with it.

The project leader explains:

‘During such classes we observe how they move, which mechanisms they use. We do not notice this but each our step is the beginning of fall forward. When walking, at first we lean forward as if we fall then we put one leg forward and land on it. But for people with disabilities, there is another scheme: they cannot take out their legs quickly after leaning.

They first need to stand on one leg, then, standing erect, bring it forward and only then lean. It is the mechanism which they need to train to improve equilibrium.’

As a result, the new technique will include a set of exercises for the development of equilibrium, which will take into account both general patterns of movement of disabled people and individual characteristics of a person.

‘For someone it is enough to learn to keep his/her back straight when walking, someone needs to do exercises for knees. Exercises will be designed for simulators which we expect to install at the University for physical education classes. We also plan to try virtual reality next year. This can help to overcome the fear of fall,’

says Leonid Kapilevich.