Monday, June 29, 2009

MILBAT Ingenious inventions for the disabled


Tucked away in a dilapidated, one-story building in the sprawling Sheba Hospital complex at Tel Hashomer, the headquarters of the nonprofit MILBAT organization are small and unassuming - especially considering the number of innovative products it churns out every year.

Unlike companies who create, design and manufacture new products with the specific goal of making a profit, MILBAT has a different objective: to better the lives of physically and mentally disabled people and the elderly.

Yael Shaked-Bregman, one of the relatively few salaried employees, greets me in the spacious entrance to tour the facility. A tall blonde with a smile that lights up her entire face, she shares her personal experiences over the last 14 years at MILBAT with the pride and passion of a dedicated professional who fully believes in the benefits of her work. One of about 20 therapists on staff, she arrived at the organization as a student of occupational therapy and never left.

As we tour several rooms brimming with prototypes and sample products, it is clear that this is no ordinary organization. A wooden baby crib for mothers in wheelchairs has doors that open to the side instead of up; special computer keyboards are fitted with a metal grate to allow people with tremors to type; a remote control car for disabled children has giant plastic buttons; and an electric organ specially designed for the handicapped is fitted with large keys and colorful, round knobs so that it can be used as both a musical instrument and a therapeutic device.

"If a solution to a problem already exists on the market, then we don't make it, but if someone has a special request for something that isn't already out there, we do our best to develop it for his unique needs," she says.

One good example is a long lighter with a round piece of metal affixed at one end. "We made this for an elderly woman in Jerusalem who is visually impaired but wanted to continue to light the Shabbat candles herself," Shaked-Bregman says, showing me how the metal piece is designed to fit over the candle. "This way she doesn't have to see the candles to light them. She can feel them instead."

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