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Steps for therapy

A set of “physio steps” is a common tool used in early childhood intervention, enabling the children to experiment, exercise, develop balance and practice walking up and down, as well as providing a way for therapists to assess gait and level of ability.

However, the steps need to fit into the building in which each service is housed, and suit their individual arrangements.

The Woodstock Early Childhood Intervention Service in Albury provides support services for children with a disability from 12 weeks old up to school age. It was in a very old building, and when Manager Rachael and her staff wanted to set up a new gross motor therapy room or “gym”, the garage looked like the best prospect.

A fundraising drive by parents enabled the service to fit out the room, including a set of steps, but the staff couldn’t find a commercially available option that met all their requirements. Fortunately Rachael and physiotherapist Cath didn’t have to look very far for a solution: both their fathers (Les Webb and Dave Welch) were members of TAD’s Albury/Wodonga group, and the group has provided devices for Woodstock for over 10 years.

The group had built a similar set of steps several years earlier for the local community health centre, so this formed the basis for the new design. One important factor was that the steps are generally used against a wall, so that it is safer for the children. Also, the whole unit is quite bulky, so putting it against the wall takes up the least amount of space.

The steps also needed to be wide enough for two people to walk on them side by side, and heavy enough to be stable but light enough to be moved around by two people. Les therefore drew up a design that has three separate sections, two step sections and a one-square-metre central platform which goes in between them.

The three-piece system means that the steps can be used in a corner as they are at present, but could also be set up against a straight wall if required. “This is very useful in case we move to a different building in the future,” Rachael said.

One step section has five steps and the other has only four, so the steps in each section are different heights and provide different gradients for varying types of exercise. The lower steps may also be more suitable for younger children.

Each step section has railings on both sides, and the platform section also has a railing on one side – this goes against the wall in the current corner setup, but can be placed at the front when it’s against a straight wall.

While the design was being finalised, the group received another request for two similar sets of steps from the Occupational Therapy department at Charles Sturt University, for their clinics at Albury and Wagga Wagga. This turned the project into a reasonably major operation.

A team of six volunteers (including Brian Haynes, Eric Booth, Les Holmes and Geoff Permezel as well as Dave Welch and Les Webb) set up a workshop in Geoff’s garage. The 60 MDF panels required for the total of nine sections were generously cut to size free of charge by the supplier, Hutchinson Cabinets, and the team went to work on building one set at a time.

The rails are made from 38mm galvanised tubing, painted with cheerful quick-drying yellow enamel. Cutting, welding and painting all the rails was also a lengthy process, done in shifts by team members as they had free time and sustained by delicious refreshments supplied by Geoff’s wife June.

When the first set was ready for delivery, the team excitedly ferried them to Woodstock, only to discover that they wouldn’t fit through the doorway! Fortunately, the problem was quickly solved by unbolting the railings and re-fitting them once inside. The empty garage was then waiting for the whole process to be repeated twice more.

The steps look beautiful and blend in perfectly with the wooden floor of the therapy room. “They are being used every day, and are working wonderfully,” Rachael said. “They fit really well into the corner of the room and they are just the right size for a child and therapist to use them safely.”

Brian reports that while it was lengthy and time-consuming, all the team members found it very enjoyable to work on the project together. “We are planning a lunch for all of the team and their partners, to continue sharing the sense of team spirit that comes from volunteering with TAD,” he said.

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