Local heroes who can’t help helping

Tucked away in the old Holder high school is a workshop where a group of unsung heroes – volunteers who dedicate time, skill and ingenuity – quietly improve the quality of life of the disabled, writes LAURA EDWARDS.

THEY don’t like to sing their own praises, but there’s nothing much the volunteers at Technical Aid to the Disabled ACT can’t do.

Bikes with postural support, snooker billiards for arm amputees and unspillable spoons are just a few of the aids they have created for the disabled.

“We don’t say ‘no’ to requests very often, we try and do whatever we can,” says retired engineer Chris Diener, who has been volunteering with TADACT for 10 years.

Formed in 1979, the non-profit organisation specialises in creating or modifying equipment that isn’t available commercially for people with a disability or the elderly in the ACT and around the region.

The aids can “literally be life changing” for the disabled, who may need them to continue doing something they enjoy or just to get by in life.
Around 50 volunteers in the ACT spend their time working on unique creations requested by customers, and around 300 aids are created each year, all for a fraction of the price of costly commercial goods.

“We charge for materials and administration, but the manpower is all free,” Chris says.

“With some of the aids sold commercially, you’re looking at $4000 because they’re usually imported from other countries. And these people just can’t afford that. If it’s not already available here, then we can generally make it.”

Currently there is a TAD in every state except for the NT, and although TADACT has been around for more than 30 years, Graham says not everyone is aware of it.

“We are very unique to the community, there’s nothing else like us around in Canberra, so we’re hoping to really let people know that we’re here to help,” he says.

“Especially for older Australians, they don’t think they need this, but this is not just for the disabled in the classical sense, it’s that you’re not as able as you used to be.”

To look at their creations certainly perks up one’s curiosity. What is seemingly part of a fishing rod is actually a snooker billiard for an arm amputee, and what appears to be a wooden cup is actually a tool to heighten chairs for the elderly, who may struggle to get up.

“Most of the volunteers have technical backgrounds so we’ve got the mind for it already, but we share a number of the designs with other TADs in Australia,” Chris says.

“There’s a fair bit of imagination there.”

Chris gets emotional when he reaches for one creation in particular; a push trolley to help disabled children walk with support.

“There was a disability equipment exhibition a few years ago at Kippax and a little boy about three or four, who had cerebral palsy, came along with his mother and he picked it up and he walked for the first time,” he says.

“The mother was just amazed… it was a wonderful feeling to see that.”

For more information on TADACT, visit www.technicalaidact.org.au

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