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Boarding the bus

Amber has found a safe haven in a group home run by the Samaritans in Taree.

Amber has a rare syndrome which has resulted in developmental delay and challenging behaviours, and she gets very anxious if she doesn’t feel secure.

The home has a bus which is used to take the residents to their day placements and on outings at the weekend. Most of the residents use wheelchairs and are lifted in and out of the bus in their chairs, but Amber can walk and so needs to use the fold-down step at the side of the bus for access.

The problem was that Amber didn’t feel secure on the step, and workers at the home had to support her when she was using it. As well as the risk of injury to Amber if she panicked and lost her balance, there was also a significant risk of injury to the workers if they took all her weight.

“We have a high injury rate among the staff here, as there is a lot of manual handling,” said Acting Senior Worker, Mary. “So we have to look at the potential risk for staff as well as taking care of Amber.”

Local TAD volunteer Chris Scott had already assisted with projects for another resident at the home, so the staff asked him if he could make a support for Amber to use.

The bus has existing vertical rails on either side of the door, so Chris designed two additional triangular rail sections which attach to these. The vertical side of each new rail is made from square steel tube, and is bolted to another piece of U-shaped steel which goes around each of the existing rails. The other two sides of each new section are made from round steel tube and extend out to form the new rails.

Chris added a small plate at the bottom of each existing rail with a raised square in the centre. When the new rails are folded out for use, the raised square slots into the bottom of the vertical section, locking the rails securely in the open position. The vertical sections move freely on the existing rails, so it is easy to lift them slightly to release them when it is time to fold them back in. This also means the new rails don’t compromise the structure of the bus and can be removed if it is sold in the future.

The last task was to work out the best way to hold the rails closed and stop them from rattling when they are folded in and the bus is in motion. Chris initially added a spring clip to hold them together and some insulation tape on one to muffle the rattle, but he found that the tape wore out very quickly. He has recently replaced this system with a hook and fasteners strap.

The solution has worked well for Amber. “She has learnt to put her hand on the rail, and it gives her a really good sense of security,” Mary said. “And if she did happen to trip, she has something other than the staff to hang onto.”

“This could also be a solution for other disabled or elderly people using a bus, as there could easily be accidents, particularly when they are getting out of it,” Chris said. “They can only use the existing rails if they go out backwards, and that isn’t always possible.”

“Chris did a great job,” Mary said. “He has done some wonderful things for us, and he is always very helpful. He looks at things from a different perspective to us, so he is good to talk to about problems like this.”

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