When Shona McDonald’s second daughter, Shelly, was born with cerebral palsy in1984, doctors and therapists advised her to put her in a home and have another baby. But that’s not what she had in mind.
Although her daughter was disabled, unable to speak and almost totally deaf, Shona realised that by taking her to a home, she would be silencing all those mothers who care for disabled children.
Determined to make life better for her daughter, Shona, with the help of local therapists, embarked on a search for a baby carrier.
Shona involved herself with a non-profit organisation (NPO) for children who could not speak. This gave her the opportunity to meet many other parents of children with disabilities, who together with their therapists badgered her into designing and manufacturing special devices for them.
As time went by, Shona started feeling the strain of making these items on a non-profit basis, and realised that she should either stop doing it or start a small business and charge for her services.
After much soul searching, she decided that to charge for her services was better than to stop altogether. At the time, there were no other suitable products available in South Africa; the need was great and so she established Shonaquip.
After seeing pictures of a special seating support electric wheelchair in a Swedish magazine, she made contact with the Bio-medical Engineering Department at the University of Cape Town, and asked them to build her a similar machine. This led to the first locally-produced battery-powered buggy, and the foundation of Shonaquip itself.
This buggy was the first South African wheelchair that could be used not only on flat, paved roads and in urban areas, but also on uneven terrain, in sand, and over hills and rocks. 15 years after its introduction, many of the original wheelchairs from the first production batch are still in use in rural areas of the country.
The buggy gave Shelly great freedom and enabled her to attend a local pre-school, where, thanks to all the stimulation she received, she progressed rapidly on to primary and high school.
With Shonaquip officially registered, Shona continued to design different products to meet the needs of the children she met; working on just one item at a time and improving designs as she went along, her range of products grew rapidly.
Shona started the business as a way to accomplish several goals. She wanted to prove that people in wheelchairs could earn respectable incomes and become primary bread winners. She wanted to use the business to pursue poverty alleviation goals and to demonstrate to the public that she could develop practical and workable solutions via policy transformation. She also wanted parents to hope and to safely dream that their children could grow up with some pride and respect. She wanted to know that one day she could pass on a successful and sustainable business that would continue to grow and develop as a tool for transformation.
Even though Shona started her company with great reluctance, due to her fear of being accused of ripping off people with disabilities, it has and continues to be a success.