As one in the North-American mobility industry, as well as one with a disability myself, I know
all too well the difficulties that many face toward obtaining much needed manual and power wheelchairs
in a restrictive insurer funding climate. |
However, I've recently found myself again reminded
that obtaining mobility products isn't a North-American issue, but a global one. And, while we seek funding
for power wheelchairs with greater capabilities in North America, those with disabilities in the Developing
World continue struggling to secure a wheelchair, period. Truly, when we consider that those of us in
North-America complain about receiving a 6 mph power wheelchair instead of an 8 mph package, whereas
those in developing countries go without any wheelchair whatsoever, the clarity of perspective is striking.
Fresh out of college, a foursome of engineers and designers have founded the nonprofit organization,
Intelligent Mobility International, intended to bring low-cost, durable, sustainable mobility to the
The group started the project with a very elementary question: What does virtually
every developing country have as transportation?
Bicycles, of course – and lots of them. From
there, the commonalities between wheelchairs and bicycles came together: Metal tubing, wheels, and bearings,
to name a few components. Could existing bicycles, then, be turned into extremely durable, low-cost wheelchairs?
As Intelligent Mobility International proves, the answer is, absolutely. By taking two bicycle frames
and applying a total of four cuts, a wheelchair frame is born. Of course, welding, upholstery, and other
material processes are needed; however, recycling two bicycle frames and using their existing geometry
and components to create a manual wheelchair is an ingenious concept – and it works.
The result is a practical, durable, low-cost wheelchair that can be manufactured and maintained in developing
countries. To produce the wheelchairs, Intelligent Mobility International is helping set up an infrastructure
in countries like Guatemala, where bicycle shops and those with disabilities can work together in the
process. In fact, fabrication is designed to be both practical and accessible, where jigs allow someone
with one arm to participate. Presently, the cost to fabricate one of Intelligent Mobility International's
wheelchairs in a developing country is $150, which they're currently striving to lower to $40, a more
It's a big world out there, and it's inspiring that young people on a mobility
mission are looking to make a difference through cultural awareness, ingenuity, and dedication. For more
information, please visit Intelligent Mobility International's web site.
Published 10/08, Copyright 2008, WheelchairJunkie.com