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Nonprofit group hopes digital rehabilitation will be fun for ailing children

Twelve-year-old Kojiro Okada moves his body toward a bird-shaped shadow projected onto the floor, with the help of a physiotherapist, in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Nov. 5, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Hiroki Kondo)

A nonprofit organization has been working hard on a unique brand of digital rehabilitation for children with illnesses and disabilities with the goal of making rehabilitation programs more enjoyable.

    Ubdobe, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group, has been developing the "Digital Interactive Rehabilitation System," which is aimed toward children in rehabilitation with diseases such as muscular dystrophy. The organization hopes to put the system into practice after conducting tests from fiscal 2018 and onward to verify its effectiveness in cooperation with public medical institutions.

    At an event in Tokyo in November, the digital system was tested among a number of children. Multicolored digital art consisting of images of animals and cars was projected onto the floor and walls, at a gentle pace.

    Kojiro Okada, a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy was one of the participants. As Kojiro crawled across the floor, reaching out for moving shadows, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience.

    His 44-year-old mother Miwako was pleasantly surprised. Everyday, Kojiro carries out stretches and rolls over for about 20 minutes, but it's not something he enjoys. "Why are you making me do this?" he says reluctantly. Yet, on the other hand, the digital rehabilitation was a breath of fresh air. "I want to do this again," Kojiro says excitedly, after moving his body for almost an hour.

    The idea for the system was initially conceived by a staff member whose daughter has a congenital muscular condition. The girl participated in conventional rehabilitation sessions to prevent her physical abilities from weakening further. However, her parent wished for programs that could be enjoyable, since rehabilitation workouts tends to be tough for people like their daughter who were born without physical ability in the first place.

    The technical development for the digital rehabilitation method was inspired by a child who moved their body to digital art displayed along with music. With help from children in rehabilitation, the group crafted activity menus for each child with doctors and physical therapists, and came up with digital art and rhythms for their programs. Money for the project was provided through crowdfunding.

    Commenting on the system, the 36-year-old managing director of Ubdobe, Yuki Oka, says, "So long as you have a computer and a projector, you can do it at home or in the hospital. I want to change the perception that rehabilitation is rough going.

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