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Breakthrough Product For Disabled Children

15 August 2002

Breakthrough Product For Children With Disabilities

Paremata-based Gelârt International starts production in October on a breakthrough product for therapists and children with central nervous system deficiencies such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida.

Gelârt International design engineer Stuart Young was able to refine his design for a unique all-in-one standing and seating system for physically challenged children after undertaking a business exchange to the United States of America under Industry New Zealand’s World Class New Zealanders programme.

The exchange allowed him to gain expert knowledge from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), and to meet with manufacturers of mobility equipment to learn about production and planning methods used in the States.

He was also able to investigate new materials, standards, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

Gelârt International managing director Alwyn Parry says the Gelârt Xtra virtually creates an exo-skeleton that allows a therapist to customise the product to accommodate a child’s postural needs, sitting or standing.

“It is a huge breakthrough in support for such children.”

Gelârt International is a subsidiary of Medix 21, one of New Zealand’s leading distributors of rehabilitation equipment. Over the past three years both companies have received support from Industry New Zealand to develop Gelârt Xtra, including a Business Growth Fund grant for developing and testing, and funding under the World Class New Zealanders programme to access international best practice.

The Gelârt Xtra is a single product with a wide range of uses – replacing several pieces of equipment. It may be used as a corner seat, kindergarten or school chair and a high chair – where the back and entire seat can be tilted forward or backwards. It can also be used as a standing frame, with the child supported upright or lying flat.

“Gelârt Xtra will help with early intervention, assisting special needs children during their formative years, which may lessen the need for costly surgical intervention at a later date – reducing stress on the child and their family, “ Mr Parry says.

The quality of design and manufacture has already won praise from within the industry at an international rehabilitation exhibition in Denmark. Mr Parry believes that once it becomes more widely known, demand will take off. “We’ve already had orders from people who want to see the finished product. Once production is under way, we’ll show at MedTrade in Atlanta, Georgia and the annual show in Dusseldorf, which involves more than 50,000 people from within the industry.

Industry New Zealand World Class New Zealanders manager Karlene Davis says the World Class New Zealanders programme is about helping New Zealand companies, and their upcoming, innovative world class staff such as Stuart Young, access the latest technology and best practice developments from around the world. “The visit enabled him to learn international best practice and gain expertise not readily available in New Zealand.”

RESNA is internationally recognised as a valued source for transfer and exchange of knowledge of science, engineering, technology and standards to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities, she says.

“It looks simple, but the Gelârt Xtra is a complex piece of equipment that we’ve tried to make aesthetically pleasing and easy to use,” Mr Parry says.

Constructed of aluminium and steel tubing with pneumatic gas tubing, which lifts or lowers the child, the seat and climbing frame can be tilted. A unique three-point linkage system centralises the centre of gravity, allowing the base to be not much larger than a conventional buggy. Close cell pads with removable, washable natural wool covers help keep the child comfortable.

The Gelârt Xtra can be used by children from one through eight years. Most therapeutic equipment is designed to cover a far more restricted age range, and must be replaced after two to three years. Adjustment for growth can be easily made by a therapist and requires only one tool – a single Allen key. No tools are needed to adjust it from a sitting to a standing position or vice versa.

“The product also folds flat for easy storage and transport,” Mr Parry says. “This is important not only for use in the home or at school, but also for exporting, which is expensive from New Zealand.”

The Gelârt Xtra’s 800 or so components are manufactured by around 15 local specialist companies and each unit is assembled and checked in Gelârt International’s own workshop. “We have the last word on quality,” he says.

A new website, www.gelart.co.nz, is under construction with details of the Gelârt Xtra and the company’s other products, to enable parents and therapists to find out more about the product range.

ENDS

Medix 21 is a leading distributor of medical products designed specifically to assist physically challenged children.

Medix 21, under its subsidiary Gelârt International Ltd has developed a mobility aid, which allows disabled children to sit, stand and be moved around in it. It grows with the child from ages one to eight.

Industry New Zealand is the national economic development agency responsible for building a portfolio of world class businesses in New Zealand.

World Class New Zealanders is an Industry New Zealand programme designed to help increase New Zealand's international competitiveness by giving entrepreneurs and high growth New Zealand industries and businesses the opportunity to learn from the world's best companies and brightest talents.

International Business Exchanges, part of the World Class New Zealanders programme, assist New Zealand Businesses to:

- Improve capabilities critical to competitive growth

- Learn skills from top offshore businesses

- Establish networks with overseas experts and strategic partners linked to capability improvement

- Access international expertise not readily available in New Zealand.


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